President Donald Trump on Saturday praised Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ plan to combat leaks of classified information — a rare show of support for the man Trump recently called “beleaguered.”
“After many years of LEAKS going on in Washington, it is great to see the A.G. taking action!” Trump tweeted. “For National Security, the tougher the better!”
Sessions announced Friday that the Department of Justice was reviewing policies affecting media subpoenas.
“We respect the important role that the press plays and will give them respect, but it is not unlimited,” Sessions said. “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.”
Existing guidelines, which were put in place under Attorney General Eric Holder in 2015, give broad protections from subpoenas and government monitoring for all journalists engaged in “newsgathering activities.” Sessions did not say what the review would mean in terms of prosecutions or actions against journalists.
Trump has pressed Sessions to be more aggressive in pursuing a crackdown on leaks, a problem which he has bemoaned since almost the beginning of his presidency.
“I want the attorney general to be much tougher on the leaks from intelligence agencies,” Trump said at the end of July. “These are intelligence agencies. We cannot have that happen.”
He also blasted Sessions in a tweet for being “VERY weak” on “intel leaks.”
The leak-related remarks are just the latest in Trump’s intense public scrutiny — largely negative — of Sessions in recent weeks. Trump slammed Sessions for recusing himself from the federal probe into Russian interference in last year’s election, telling The New York Times earlier in July that the move was “extremely unfair” to him.
Trump doubled-down on his criticism during a press conference with Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri nearly a week later, but refused to say if he would fire the attorney general.
“I am disappointed in the attorney general. He should not have recused himself,” Trump said. “If he was going to recuse himself, he should have told me prior to taking office and I would have quite simply picked someone else.”
Several White House officials have urged Trump to stop his public denunciations of Sessions, making a series of arguments in the attorney general’s defense, two sources told CNN. The officials have sought to remind Trump of Sessions’ longstanding support throughout the 2016 campaign and the loyalty of Sessions’ Republican base.
Senators on both sides of the aisle also cautioned Trump not to consider using a recess appointment during the August recess to replace Sessions.
Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, the second-ranking GOP leader in the chamber, warned Trump late last month that the recess appointment idea “would be a mistake.”
“I think Jeff Sessions is doing a good job, and I think it would be incredibly disruptive and make it more difficult for the President to accomplish his agenda,” Cornyn told CNN.
Before leaving for the August break this week, the Senate decided to hold a series of pro-forma sessions as a way of preventing the President from taking such action.