US President Donald Trump’s administration is cracking down on leakers after a deluge of embarrassing disclosures, including the release of the full transcript of a phone call with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.
US Attorney General Jeff Sessions and National Intelligence Director Dan Coats announced the ramped-up effort at a press conference in Washington DC on Friday.
Leakers, dubbed as “rogue anonymous sources”, from within the White House, intelligence agencies, other departments and the media members who publish confidential information face prosecution.
“Just yesterday, we saw reports in the media about conversations the president had with foreign leaders,” Mr Sessions told a press conference.
“No one is entitled to surreptitiously fight their battles in the media by revealing sensitive government information.
“No government can be effective when its leaders cannot discuss sensitive matters in confidence or to talk freely in confidence with foreign leaders,” he said.
The Washington Post published a full transcript of Mr Turnbull’s January 28 phone call with Mr Trump on Thursday, exposing the president lambasting the prime minister and cutting the call short over the Australian-US asylum-seeker deal.
A transcript of a call between Mr Trump and Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto, including embarrassing comments about Mr Trump’s US-Mexican wall proposal, was also published by the Post.
Mr Sessions said cases involving leaks will be prioritised and the Department of Justice “will not hesitate to bring lawful and appropriate criminal charges against those who abuse the nation’s trust”.
The number of active leak investigations have tripled and the FBI has increased resources devoted to leak cases and created a new counterintelligence unit.
Four people have already been charged. Mr Sessions did not immediately give their identities but said they had been charged with unlawfully disclosing classified information or concealing contacts with foreign intelligence officers, Reuters reported.
Policies affecting media subpoenas is being reviewed.
“We respect the important role that the press plays and will give them respect, but it is not unlimited,” Mr Sessions said.
“They cannot place lives at risk with impunity.”