AG Sessions Launches First Salvo in Devastating Attack on the 1st Amendment

AG Sessions Launches First Salvo in Devastating Attack on the 1st Amendment

Sessions Unveils Plan to Start Harassing Journalists

Attorney General Jefferson Bureaugard Sessions III unveiled a new and potentially devastating attack on the First Amendment, Friday afternoon. The presidency is spinning out of control as staffers from its own White House continuously blows the whistle on highly questionable behavior in the Oval Office. The sheer volume of leaks coming out of the White House are unprecedented in modern history. Leakers have already been put on notice, and while it’s impossible to know how many might be thinking twice because of the possibility of prosecution, there are still people fearlessly handing material over to reporters. Just Thursday, the Washington Post published leaked transcripts of Trump’s embarrassing phone calls with the leaders of Mexico and Australia. But Sessions is proposing to open a whole new front in combating the flow of whistleblowing information gushing from the White House.

On Friday, Sessions announced that the Department of Justice is “considering” a move to subpoena journalists who receive leaks from the White House. Politico reported,

Much of the effort involves investigating and prosecuting leak suspects, he said, but another aspect is “reviewing policies affecting media subpoenas.” That review, he said, came at the suggestion of FBI agents, career investigators and prosecutors who have weighed in on the leak problem.

“We respect the important role that the press plays, and we’ll give them respect, but it is not unlimited,” Sessions said. “They cannot place lives at risk with impunity. We must balance the press’s role with protecting our national security and the lives of those who serve in the intelligence community, the armed forces and all law-abiding Americans.”

Hear that? The “respect” for the press in the Trump DOJ is not “unlimited.” That is a chilling statement. As a reminder to Sessions, the First Amendment clearly states “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom … of the press.” He can’t enforce a law that doesn’t exist and cannot exist. The work of journalists is the only profession under blanket legal protection in the Constitution. Cultivating sources and protecting them from persecution is a key piece of the work that journalists do.

In recent years, a number of former democracies have slid into authoritarianism with terrifying speed. One of them is Turkey, which, under Recep Erdogan, has gone from a key NATO ally and model democracy of the near East to something just shy of a dictatorship. Erdogan began his crackdowns by jailing journalists in the name of national security. Sessions is basically arguing the same thing, that leakers are risking lives. It’s not clear how they’re risking lives. Clearly many of the leaks have embarrassed the White House, but has anyone in the field been compromised because the press published a call transcript, or revealed a secret meeting with the Russians? The Trump administration’s unprecedented affinity for authoritarian regimes overseas should be a warning to the US about where Sessions’ potential move could lead. Using legal harassment to force journalists to name leakers in the White House would be an extreme assault on representative government.

The Sessions DOJ is probably fully aware of how bad this looks. That’s likely the reason why they decided the Friday before a 3-week Congressional recess was a great time to announce this potential policy change. Republican leaders will be hard pressed to issue a forceful response to this when they are running down the airport terminal to catch their planes. Sessions can then turn around and tell Trump that there wasn’t much of a reaction, so it’s safe to proceed with this “policy change.”

Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

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Marc Belisle is the Reverb Press World Affairs Editor. He is a writer, activist and teacher. He has a Master’s degree in International Conflict Analysis from the Brussels School of International Studies. READ MORE BY MARC.