Attorney General Jeff Sessions says the Justice Department is aggressively investigating recent leaks of classified information and wants to put "some people in jail" over the disclosures.
"Whenever a case can be made, we will seek to put some people in jail," Sessions said in El Paso, Texas, during a border-security visit with Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly.
President Donald Trump has repeatedly urged investigations into national security leaks, particularly those related to the ongoing FBI probe of possible ties between Trump campaign officials and the Russian government.
“I’ve actually called the Justice Department to look into the leaks,” Trump said during a news conference in February. “Those are criminal leaks.”
Asked about the administration’s approach to leaks Thursday, Sessions did not mention Trump or his request, but the former Alabama senator and former U.S. attorney said he believes the volume and seriousness of recent leaks has been unprecedented.
"We are going to step up our efforts and already are stepping up our efforts on all leaks," the attorney general said. "This is a matter that has gone beyond anything I’m aware of. We have professionals who have been in the security business of the United States for many years that are shocked by the number of leaks. Some of them are quite serious. So, yes it is a priority."
Sessions call for a more vigorous approach to leak cases came shortly before a Washington Post report Thursday that prosecutors are taking a fresh look at bringing criminal charges against people affiliated with the pro-transparency organization WikiLeaks. The Post reported that federal prosecutors are considering whether to bring charges against members of the group in connection with the disclosure in 2010 of hundreds of thousands of military reports and diplomatic cables.
A Justice Department spokesman declined to comment on the Post report.
A military judge overseeing a court martial convicted Army Private Chelsea Manning of the leaks, but no charges were ever filed against any others, including WikiLeaks or its leader Julian Assange.
Manning was sentenced to 35 years, but just before leaving office in January President Barack Obama commuted the sentence to end in May.
WikiLeaks has again been in the spotlight in the past year as a vehicle for the disclosure of hacked emails that rocked the U.S. presidential campaign. U.S. intelligence agencies say those disclosure were part of a Russian effort to interfere in the U.S. election, but officials have stopped short of claiming that WikiLeaks or Assange were aware they were part of a Russian government operation. Assange has said he’s certain that Russia was not the source of the hacked emails.
A grand jury in Alexandria, Virginia, is known to have investigated WikiLeaks and its associates. However, the attorney general at the time of the 2010 disclosures, Eric Holder, indicated publicly that people acting in a journalistic capacity were unlikely to face charges under the Espionage Act.
Despite the lack of charges against WikiLeaks or others connected to the group, the Obama administration faced criticism from First Amendment groups and whistleblower advocates for launching an unprecedented number of leak prosecutions—as many as ten during the Obama years.
Now, Sessions appears to be promising to be even more aggressive in pursuing leak cases than Obama was.