Jeff Sessions Suggests He's Steering The DOJ Towards Prosecuting More Journalists

from the publish-and-die dept

Jeff Sessions and the DOJ are back to threatening leakers again. It seems counterproductive, considering each new threat of leak investigations does little to stem the steady flow of leaks. But the new DOJ boss seems ready to go further than his predecessors.

Having already expressed an interest in taking care of Obama's unfinished business by going after Wikileaks, Sessions now appears to be headed towards threatening journalism and the First Amendment itself. This would be a new direction for the Justice Department. A 2013 report by the DOJ stated it was unwilling to consider the punishment of journalists during leak investigations, except as a last resort.

As an initial matter, it bears emphasis that it has been and remains the Department's policy that members of the news media will not be subject to prosecution based solely on newsgathering activities. Furthermore, in light of the importance of the constitutionally protected newsgathering process, the Department views the use of tools to seek evidence from or involving the news media as an extraordinary measure.

Journalists have been subpoenaed before in leak investigations, but the DOJ has generally been unwilling to jail journalists for refusing to hand over information on their sources. Jeff Sessions, however, seems less concerned about using the weight of the law against members of the press.

In his written remarks before a press briefing on national security leaks, Sessions said this:

I have listened to career investigators and prosecutors about how to most successfully investigate and prosecute these matters. At their suggestion, one of the things we are doing is reviewing policies affecting media subpoenas. We respect the important role that the press plays and will give them respect, but it is not unlimited. They cannot place lives at risk with impunity. We must balance their role with protecting our national security and the lives of those who serve in our intelligence community, the armed forces, and all law abiding Americans.

This strongly suggests the 2013 guidelines on "new media" will be rewritten by Sessions' DOJ to justify increased prosecutions of journalists. This is a dangerous step forward, especially in an era where leaks seem to be coming faster than journalists can publish them. Throwing a few journalists in jail for contempt creates a severe chilling effect. Even the enhanced threat of prosecution may be enough to discourage journalists from publishing leaked docs or working with government sources.

Sessions was asked directly if this administration would prosecute journalists. He refused to answer the question before ending the briefing. This would be the second time Sessions has dodged this question -- the first being Sen. Klobluchar's question along the same lines during his confirmation hearing. What better way to send a chilling message to journalists then telling them their freedom might be at stake as they attend a press briefing.


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  • icon
    Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile), 4 Aug 2017 @ 6:15pm

    I'm turning red and I don't know why...

    They cannot place lives at risk with impunity.

    What lives? Staffers leaking about the bloviating done in the Oval Office or the West Wing doesn't endanger lives. Telling the Nation about illegal actions by various government departments doesn't endanger lives. Embarrassment might be the word they are looking for, but I seriously doubt government embarrassment is codified as against the law.

    The use of treason laws without discerning the difference between treason and wistleblowing tells us a lot about the motives of the government and Sessions.

    Telling people about ongoing covert operations or naming covert operatives might endanger lives, but this has happened with silver spoon leakers (Patraeus for example) and nothing happened. Claiming sources and methods isn't actually in the national security interest as fiction writers tend to out those up to decades before they are used. In fact it might be claimed that the government gets their methods from those writers. Sources might actually be a problem, but not always, as sometimes the sources are the press themselves, and without leaks from our government. How much does the CIA learn from foreign news and how much from 'placed' covert operatives or agents?

    Sessions had better come up with some seriously better excuses to obviate the 1st Amendment, and here is to praying that the ideologically stacked Supreme Court stands up to their responsibilities to the Constitution, as it certainly appears that Sessions is not standing up to his oath to support that document.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      3rd Guy, 5 Aug 2017 @ 6:56am

      Saints Obama & Eric Holder

      yeah, Sessions is a jerk -- but he's just timidly following the path built by Obama & Holder

      Sessions & Trump have a very long way to go to match the Obama/Holder record of arrests/prosecutions/spying-on of journalists, whistleblowers and leakers.

      Obama prosecutions under the blatantly non-Constitutional "Espionage Act" were particularly egregious. If journalists had any real professionalism -- they would pursue and expose the injustice of the Espionage Act ... and destroy the phony legal footing of these DOJ witch hunts.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 5 Aug 2017 @ 7:24am

        Re: Saints Obama & Eric Holder

        but its worse when those "other" guys do it.

        Neither this or the past administration respects the Constitution. It was only good enough for use as toilet paper.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        orbitalinsertion (profile), 5 Aug 2017 @ 11:24am

        Re: Saints Obama & Eric Holder

        They have absolutely a longer record. Sessions seems to be threatening to make it _worse_. Why do we always have to play tu quoque whenever something new is reported. As if we were unaware, or excused someone else while pointing new or heightened threats or activity?

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 6 Aug 2017 @ 9:36am

          Re: Re: Saints Obama & Eric Holder

          "Why do we always have to play tu quoque"

          Why do we always have to attack the messenger?

          Keep focusing on the message, its far more important than what is actually done! As long as I "tell" you that you I am not going to harm you while grinding my dagger in your back its all good.

          ~Dems and Reps

          sucker

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • identicon
            Mill Spec, 6 Aug 2017 @ 1:57pm

            Re: Saints Obama Holder

            "Keep focusing on the message"

            ..


            ....and exactly WHAT is the core "message" from the headline:

            "Jeff Sessions Suggests He's Steering The DOJ Towards Prosecuting More Journalists"

            {?}{you don't know}

            _________________

            ...somebody pretends to mindread Sessions, but can only offer vague opinion about 'suggestions' and 'steering'

            is DOJ pursuit of journalists supposed to be something new (?)
            {of course not, it's been standard practice for years--- so WHAT is the point?)

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Dave Hunter, 6 Aug 2017 @ 12:03pm

      Re: I'm turning red and I don't know why...

      The NYT published the name of the head of the Iranian desk at the CIA. Not allowed.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 6 Aug 2017 @ 12:50pm

        Re: Re: I'm turning red and I don't know why...

        The NYT published the name of the head of the Iranian desk at the CIA. Not allowed.

        Not only that, but I heard they published the name of the very head of the CIA!

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 4 Aug 2017 @ 6:47pm

    [Citation Needed]

    They cannot place lives at risk with impunity. We must balance their role with protecting our national security and the lives of those who serve in our intelligence community, the armed forces, and all law abiding Americans.

    I'd be mighty interested to have some evidence of any leaks lately(or even not so lately) that actually put lives at risk, because I'm not aware of any offhand.

    I do seem to recall the 'put lives at risk' mantra being trotted out when they were going after Manning, but as memory serves they eventually had to admit that they couldn't find any evidence of actual lives lost thanks to the leaks.

    Likewise with Snowden where the claim was that exposing what they were doing would allow terrorists to hide their actions, completely ignoring that any even remotely competent terrorist was already well aware that they could be under surveillance and took steps in response, such that the only people who were learning anything new was the general public.

    With no examples that I'm aware of at least of leakers threatening lives rather than reputations, careers and/or programs the argument put forth for cracking down on them comes across as pretty weak and dishonest.

    Sessions was asked directly if this administration would prosecute journalists. He refused to answer the question before ending the briefing.

    Not so, his refusal was his answer, and the answer was 'Yes', he just isn't honest enough to admit it and would prefer to keep it as a 'implied' threat. With a simple yes or no question like that refusal to answer(twice) should be assumed to mean 'yes, but I don't want to say it out loud'.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Cowardly Lion, 5 Aug 2017 @ 12:55am

      Re: [Citation Needed]

      I'm desperately trying to keep politics out of this, but you have to contrast Sessions (and others) bullshit about endangering lives with the way that Valerie Plame (an actual agent, whose life and livelihood WAS put at actual risk) was outed in a fit of pique by Bush's cronies. Also the way that Trump casually bragged to the Russians (in the actual Oval office) and showed them actual intel, potentially putting Israeli agents at risk.

      Libby dodged jail time. We don't know about about Trump yet, but it would be nice to see some consequences.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 5 Aug 2017 @ 9:58am

        Re: Re: [Citation Needed]

        The president is authorized to release any and every detail to anyone he chooses. Is that wise in this case, of course not but hinting that their may be prosecutions from it is disingenuous at best.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile), 5 Aug 2017 @ 10:09am

          Re: Re: Re: [Citation Needed]

          It may be apocryphal, but I hear that classified information may only be declassified by the original classifying authority. Unless the President is the classifying authority, he cannot release it. He may be able to order the classifying authority to declassify something, but then it is no longer classified, and may be released without issue.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 6 Aug 2017 @ 10:48am

          Re: Re: Re: [Citation Needed]

          hinting that their may be prosecutions from it is disingenuous at best.

          Hinting that it was the president who released that information is beyond disingenuous at best.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Emma Dee (profile), 6 Aug 2017 @ 5:46am

        Re: Re: [Citation Needed]

        You should keep politics out of it, if you going to spin fantasies as fact. Plame was never in the slightest danger, as she was holding a DC desk job, not serving undercover outside the US. She was never "outed', because she was no longer 'in'.

        Libby did absolutely nothing wrong, and was simply the fall guy for Dick Armitage's leaky blabby mouth.

        We really should see severe consequences - for the real criminals in all this: Holder, Obama, Hillary, Lynch, Comey, Rice, Powers, Clapper, and more.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 6 Aug 2017 @ 10:45am

          Re: Re: Re: [Citation Needed]

          "We really should see severe consequences - for the real criminals in all this: Holder, Obama, Hillary, Lynch, Comey, Rice, Powers, Clapper, and more."

          When did the Plame thing happen again?

          Well - lets see here .... Oh yeah, here it is:
          "As the subject of the 2003 Plame affair, also known as the CIA leak scandal, Plame had her identity as covert officer of the CIA leaked to the press by members of the George W. Bush administration and subsequently made public. "
          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Valerie_Plame

          See the part where it says what year it occurred in? Do you recall who was in the white house at that time? Oh, the internet helps us again! ... It was Bush 43.

          So .... how do you connect the dots implicating those who you named? This may be an entire area of history that many are unaware of, so do explain please.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 6 Aug 2017 @ 12:55pm

          Re: Re: Re: [Citation Needed]

          She was never "outed', because she was no longer 'in'.

          Not true, my little apologist friend. She was a covert officer.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 7 Aug 2017 @ 9:23am

          Re: Re: Re: [Citation Needed]

          Wow you even registered just to come throw that sack of crap at us. Way to go?

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 Aug 2017 @ 7:55pm

    Newspapers that are not in the US are not subject US laws.

    The Guardian, for exmaple, would not subject to any kind of prosecution in the United States, because it is a British newspaper, and, therefors, only subject to British laws on what they publish.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile), 4 Aug 2017 @ 9:21pm

      Re:

      If a particular reporter was assigned to a bureau in the US or just on assignment here, they would be. The associated State Departments might have something to say to each other, but the journalist could still be sitting in jail, and charged. When one is in a foreign country, they are liable to the laws of that country.

      There is a better argument made that there is no law being broken, but that hasn't gotten very far at times in the past. Of course that also doesn't mean that journalists can't break a law. It means possibly arguing that reporting something one is told is protected by the 1st Amendment and that does not violate a law, US journalist or otherwise. The problem here is that the Fourth Estate is being targeted for doing it's job, likely because the US government doesn't like the job it is doing, and in our system, that is not allowed.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 4 Aug 2017 @ 10:25pm

        Re: Re:

        The reporter would be, but the newspaper, it would not. That is what I am saying. While the US-based reporter could be prosecuted, the top management at the Guardian, or any non-US newspaper would not.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 4 Aug 2017 @ 11:45pm

          Re: Re: Re:

          Did the Brits for The Guardian to destroy source material and whatnot? They don't have the same protections we do here. With them staring down the barrel of a gun (Brexit) they will bend over backwards to keep their #1 ally, the US, happy.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 6 Aug 2017 @ 10:58am

          Re: Re: Re:

          Lets just say, for moment, that Calexit did happen. The LA times, one of the biggest newspapers on the continent, would not longer be in the United States.

          The Times, being in an independent California, would no longer be subject to the laws of the remaining United States. So neither the LA times, or its management, would be subject to prosecution in the remaining United States.

          So if Calexit, or Pacifica (Oregon, Washington, California) did happen, the management of newspapers in the country would not not be subject to prosecution in the remaining United Staes.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Leaky Pete, 6 Aug 2017 @ 12:06am

      Response to: Anonymous Coward on Aug 4th, 2017 @ 7:55pm

      Yes, the leaks will just go offshore, where they'll be less likely to be filtered for US interests. Wikileaks might want to hire some staff.

      Most of them seem to be "sources within the Administration" anyway.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 Aug 2017 @ 11:05pm

    Well what do you expect him to prosecute, perjury in front of Congress?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    trump has a small dick 2 inches short, 5 Aug 2017 @ 4:22am

    trumps dick is only 2 inches short

    trumps wife hates trumps dick and refused to fuck him because of his small shit dick. 2 inches only and extremely very thin. she doesnt feel anything when he is in her cunt hole.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
      identicon
      now thats an actual leak, 5 Aug 2017 @ 4:24am

      Re: trumps dick is only 2 inches short

      A real leak from journalists

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Daydream, 5 Aug 2017 @ 4:50am

    Let's play word substitution!

    This time, let's substitute the following:

    Prosecution, prosecutors, and similar: "Silencers, silencing, etc."

    Journalists, news media, similar: "Witnesses."

    Jeff Sessions Suggests He's Steering DOJ Towards Silencing More Witnesses.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 Aug 2017 @ 6:31am

    Trump'merica

    Trump makes America great again. For whom? I'm pretty sure it's not for the US citizens.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    JoeCool (profile), 5 Aug 2017 @ 7:28am

    Sigh

    Yet another round of "Shoot the messenger!" I'm starting to wonder if mankind will ever move past this stage.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 Aug 2017 @ 7:44am

    Something you WON'T hear Jeff Sessions say...

    "We respect the important role that the police play and will give them respect, but it is not unlimited. They cannot place lives at risk with impunity."

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 5 Aug 2017 @ 2:02pm

      Re: Something you WON'T hear Jeff Sessions say...

      I imagine he would rather literally blow his own foot off than utter anything along those lines.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    J.R., 5 Aug 2017 @ 7:56am

    Sessions vs. Journalism

    Propaganda in praise of measures employed by police states.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    tom (profile), 5 Aug 2017 @ 9:49am

    Journalists used to report verified facts and followed a story to ground regardless of where it led or who it embarrassed.

    What passes for journalism today is often printing a bunch of opinion pieces backed up by supposition and slanted toward whatever result the 'journalist' supports. Most of today's journalist could better be described as political operatives.

    True journalists should have great latitude and protections while they carry out their tasks. Political operatives, not so much. The trick is figuring out when someone has switched from journalist to operative.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 5 Aug 2017 @ 11:18am

      Re:

      No.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 5 Aug 2017 @ 2:16pm

      "No TRUE journalist..."

      Just no.

      If someone is actually breaking a law then journalist or not go after them that way, or if they're not breaking the law but are simply doing a lousy job vote with your wallet/attention, but 'they aren't real journalists, they don't deserve the same protections' is a horrible idea for any number of reasons, with 'Who determines who qualifies as a 'real' journalist?' being the one that comes to mind first.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Christenson, 5 Aug 2017 @ 9:21pm

      Re: Journalists indistinguishable from operatives

      Deciding whether someone is a journalist or an operative is quite a value judgement...just like "hate speech"...

      What is driving my choice of relevant facts? If I want action of some kind, I'm an operative...now, how about this very techdirt article...is it journalism?(it's reporting interesting facts) or is it from an operative? (ultimately, I'm pretty sure the Techdirt crew wants the situation changed)

      Once again, with feeling: SPEECH NEEDS PROTECTING.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 6 Aug 2017 @ 10:55am

      Re:

      "Journalists used to report verified facts and followed a story to ground regardless of where it led or who it embarrassed."


      This is simply not true, is incorrect and misleading - most likely intentionally and therefore is a lie unless the poster actually believes it and then they are just wrong.


      "What passes for journalism today is often printing a bunch of opinion pieces backed up by supposition and slanted toward whatever result the 'journalist' supports."

      This has always been the case, please investigate and stop spreading bullshit.


      "The trick is figuring out when someone has switched from journalist to operative."

      Probably occurs when they accept the paycheck.
      In your mind a journalist only reports things that support the present administration and their dogma while anyone who reports things that show us in a bad light are the operatives - amirite?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Coyne Tibbets (profile), 5 Aug 2017 @ 10:11pm

    Arrest all the politicians

    It's a waste of time to go after journalists. He should be going after politicians.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 6 Aug 2017 @ 9:23am

    Journalists better get better informed about Their 2nd Amendment Rights to be able to protect their 1st Amendment ones .
    Cause without the 2nd you have no hope of keeping the first .

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 6 Aug 2017 @ 10:57am

      Re:

      Actually, you have no hope of keeping any of them.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 7 Aug 2017 @ 1:28am

      Re:

      So just to be clear, the second is about the right to have 'arms', guns basically, so what exactly is your proposal with regards to journalists 'protecting' their first amendment rights with their second amendment rights?

      Please spell that one out for me clearly, because offhand I can't think of a way for that to make any sort of rational sense, and/or that doesn't go horribly/violently wrong, so either I'm missing something obvious or you seem to be saying that journalists should use force or at the very least the threat of force in order to 'protect' their right to free speech.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 7 Aug 2017 @ 7:14am

        Re: Re:

        I can imagine a reporter in the field, microphone in one hand AK47 in the other, walking up to a "citizen on the street" who immediately turns and runs away screaming. That would provide entertainment value but not much news.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        The Wanderer (profile), 8 Aug 2017 @ 9:16am

        Re: Re:

        It boils down to "you need to be prepared to defend yourself, with lethal force if necessary, against anyone who may attempt to deny you your First Amendment rights", with the implication that the people doing the attempting would be government forces.

        How exactly that would work in practice is less clear; even if you were successful in beating back the government forces in the immediate instance, you'd probably need to promptly go on the run and underground in order to avoid further government-force consequences, and that would kind of impede your ability to continue to speak publicly anyway.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 7 Aug 2017 @ 7:52am

      Re:

      Guns are the smaller part of protecting your freedoms, the other part is a well organized, and credible militia that stays from under the control of the politicians. The latter is a harder act to pull off that simply protecting the second amendment.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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