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Thanks, Obama! Trump Is Expanding Your Effort to Imprison Leakers!

Justice Department announces tripling of investigations.

President ObamaMatt Summer/NewscomAttorney General Jeff Sessions announced today that the Department of Justice has tripled the number of investigations into unauthorized leaks of government information and will be examining their rules for subpoenaing journalists.

The press conference lacked details—after complaining about leakers and saying that the power of the press to report is not unlimited, Sessions declined to answer any reporters' questions. But Sessions and his department clearly want both leakers and journalists to know that they are actively trying to hunt down sources of information. Sessions said he fully intends to prosecute any he can find.

In other words, Sessions is continuing a war that began before he took office. Nothing he said today is all that different from how the federal government under President Barack Obama treated unauthorized leaks other than the expansion of the effort.

Obama's Department of Justice aggressively pursued leaks, invoked the Espionage Act to prosecute people, snooped on the press, and even threatened journalists with prison to try to make them give up sources. The department eventually changed its policies after the revelation that it had been surveilling journalists to try to track down leakers. But those policies can be changed back, and that may be what Sessions intends to do.

Obama famously campaigned on transparency but his administration provided anything but that. Federal agencies took years to respond to Freedom of Information Act requests. Such a paucity of information practically requires reporters to depend on leaks in order to get information.

To many media outlets' credit, reports on today's press conference have contextualized the news by including this Obama-era history. While the ramping up of leak investigations is certainly worth acknowledging—and definitely worth worrying about—journalists are not pretending this is some new development stemming exclusively from the Trump administration's problems. Apparently, the media have a good memory about past administrations' authoritarian tendencies when those tendencies directly affect their work.

Bringing up Obama here isn't "Whataboutism." It's about recognizing that we've been on this slippery slide for years. The government has been demanding the authority to decide what information the public is allowed to know, and it frequently defaults to secrecy instead of openness. Sessions and Trump are being more open and aggressive about attitudes that already existed. (Sessions actually criticized the Obama administration for not being aggressive enough against leakers, even though Obama set records for such prosecutions.)

When an administration decries all these leaks as threats to national security but what we actually learn from them is important for us to know, we should think carefully about the tendency to defer to the government about what should be publicly disclosed.

Photo Credit: Matt Summer/Newscom

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  • Fist of Etiquette||

    ...Sessions declined to answer any reporters' questions

    "This is a press conference! The last thing I want to do is answer a lot of questions!"

  • Mark22||

    Press conferences are staged propaganda events. Have always been.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    To many media outlets' credit, reports on today's press conference have contextualized the news by including this Obama-era history.

    Now that he's gone, what's the harm?

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Bringing up Obama here isn't "Whataboutism."

    Whataboutism being bad is, of course, settled science.

  • Mark22||

    Just like any comparison with Nazis or fascists is automatically invalidated by Godwin's law! Unless, of course, the comparison involves Republicans, conservatives, libertarians, or Trump! Then it's legitimate!

  • scooby509||

    That's racist!

  • Rich||

    Well, there's national security, and there's "national security".

  • Elias Fakaname||

    Leakers are not created equal. There is an ocean of difference between leaking to expose Marxist corruption, and the leaking of corrupt marxists to hurt the country. The latter group should be imprisoned.

  • Rebel Scum||

    I await my lefty acquaintances collective freak out over the prospect of something that The Lightbringer is currently more guilty of than President Spray-tan is (until pres. spray-tan does something, of course) as it pertains to press freedom. I will diligently point out that slippery slopes are slippery and that they are hypocrites (as if they'll learn anything...).

  • Cynical Asshole||

    I will diligently point out that slippery slopes are slippery and that they are hypocrites (as if they'll learn anything...).

    At which point you'll be accused of being a Team Red shill and a Trump apologist. Right before they point and screech at you a la Donald Sutherland.

  • Crusty Juggler - LAOL||

    Thanks for promising to prosecute all the law breakers, General Sessions! We have laws to keep us safe, so all laws should be enforced.

  • Elias Fakaname||

    I'm totally on board with prosecuting leftover Obama subversives. Maybe it's a baby step towards prosecuting Obama's other former lackeys like Holder, Lerner, Samantha Power, Lynch, Koskinen, etc.. which would all be wonderful things.

  • perlchpr||

    All right, all right, I give up. I'm the leaker.

  • Rich||

    "Oh, you'd best believe that's a crackdown!"

  • chemjeff||

    After my tenth beer, I'm a leaker as well.

  • pan fried wylie||

    Sessions and Trump are being more open and aggressive about attitudes that already existed.

    That's a kind of transparency.

  • Tony||

    Without Obama, Jeff Beauregard Sessions would never have thought to be tough on leakers, not having the capacity for independent thought himself.

    Better not elect Democrats, for they'll just inspire Republicans to be Republicans harder!

  • NotAnotherSkippy||

    "We do fascism better." (Which is certainly true.)

    That's a winner. I'd go with it.

  • Tony||

    Now do you really think it's a good idea going through life not being able to identify actual fascism because you think everything is fascism?

    When you're put on the train, I doubt you'll be thinking "Crap, this is as bad as that time I had to register my car at the DMV." (Okay, maybe a bad example.)

  • NotAnotherSkippy||

    I think it's worse to go through life without any understanding of irony.

  • Mark22||

    Now do you really think it's a good idea going through life not being able to identify actual fascism because you think everything is fascism?

    Well, Democrats and progressives certainly are ideologically far down the road to fascism.

    Trump and Republicans, not so much.

  • chemjeff||

    Care to explain that? There honestly isn't much daylight between the fascist impulses of both parties. Both of them want to strip you of your liberties and herd you into some grand patriotic collective for the glory of the state. One tribe appeals to pathos, the other tribe appeals to chest-thumping nationalism, but the end result is the same.

  • Tony||

    Nationalist wannabe dictator promising to racially cleanse the country to make it great again. But Nancy Pelosi is the fascist.

  • Elias Fakaname||

    Tony, if you want to see a fascist, go look in a mirror.

  • Calidissident||

    You could at least try to pretend like you think Obama's actions were problematic before jumping into the team-based finger-pointing and claims of superiority.

  • Tony||

    If the Trump policy is worse than the Obama policy, that would suggest that one is better than the other as well.

  • Calidissident||

    >The Point

    *Whoosh*

    >You

  • ||

    Very disappointed in the quality of the comments here today.

    You people didn't bring your 'A' games.

    I see Tony made his entrance regaling us all with his stellar takes and shakes.

  • Len Bias||

    It's really simple. Obama expanding Bush's bad policies was Bush's fault. Trump expanding Obama's bad policies is Trump's fault. To think otherwise makes you a partisan hack.

  • Mark22||

    Don't worry, now that Trump is doing it, it's not alright anymore.

    Trump's election really is doing wonders for liberty in the US.

  • Memory Hole||

    Meet the new boss three times as bad as the old boss. We were fooled again.

  • chemjeff||

    But it's not "three times as bad". It's actually not as bad if you consider that Sessions hasn't actually spied on journalists. Not that Sessions isn't capable of it, just that he hasn't (yet) gone as far as Obama did.

  • colorblindkid||

    Yeah. Trump has been saying mean words and being a dick, but he hasn't actually done anything to suppress reporters from reporting anything. He very well might outdo Obama, but for now he isn't even close to as bad. Obama just had a sycophantic press who loved him.

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