WASHINGTON – Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced a broad crackdown on unauthorized disclosures of classified information, demanding that the "culture of leaking must stop."
Since January, Sessions said the Justice Department has “more than tripled the number of active leak investigations, as compared to the number pending at the end of the Obama administration."
The department, Sessions said, has already charged four people with "unlawfully disclosing classified material or with concealing contacts with foreign intelligence officers." And the Justice Department has already received nearly as many criminal referrals involving unauthorized disclosures of classified information than in the previous three years combined.
"I have this warning for would-be leakers: Don't do it," Sessions said. "I strongly agree with the president and condemn in the strongest terms the staggering number of leaks," he said.
Sessions appeared alongside Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein and National Counterintelligence and Security Center Director William Evanina.
The announcement comes just days President Trump called on Sessions to be much tougher on the leaks from intelligence agencies, which he said last week "are leaking like rarely have they ever leaked before at a very important level. We cannot have that happen."
Sessions also denounced high-profile leaks about Trump's conversations with foreign leaders. On Thursday, The Washington Post published complete transcripts of Trump's controversial first calls with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.
Yet Trump’s anger about the leaks of sensitive and classified information was ignited even before his inauguration.
Less than two weeks before taking office, Trump unleashed a vehement attack against U.S. intelligence agencies, accusing them of leaking the contents of a lurid, unsubstantiated dossier compiled on Trump.
Intelligence officials denied leaking the document, which had been widely circulated among lawmakers and journalists before its publication.
Yet, hours after the dossier’s public disclosure Jan. 10, Trump lashed out at the intelligence agencies, blaming them and comparing their alleged actions to the gestapo tactics of “Nazi Germany.’’
The president’s public criticism stunned intelligence officials, prompting then-Director of National Intelligence James Clapper to call the president-elect in defense of the agencies.
The sting of Trump’s remarks still linger.
Last month, former CIA Director John Brennan called Trump’s “disparagement’’ of the intelligence community as “disgraceful.’’