Sessions, Job Security in Hand, Will Vow a New Crackdown on LeaksBy
Intelligence Director Coats to join attorney general at event
Chief of Staff Kelly told Sessions he can stay, person says
Attorney General Jeff Sessions will detail the Justice Department’s efforts to investigate and prosecute intelligence leaks Friday, echoing one of Donald Trump’s chief concerns days after getting assurances that the president doesn’t plan to fire him.
Joined by Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, Sessions will announce efforts that law enforcement and intelligence agencies will make to prevent unauthorized disclosure of sensitive information and to find and prosecute those responsible for leaks, said a person familiar with the plans. No specific cases or prosecutions are expected to be announced, according to the person, who asked not to be identified in advance of the event.
New White House Chief of Staff John Kelly told Sessions in a phone call over the weekend that his position is safe despite a barrage of critical tweets from the president in recent weeks, according to a person familiar with the conversation who asked not to be identified discussing the private exchange.
The phone call to Sessions was the latest indication that Kelly, who had been secretary of Homeland Security, is moving to bring order to the turmoil that has roiled the administration. On the retired general’s first day as chief of staff last week, Anthony Scaramucci was removed from his job as White House communications director only 10 days after the financier joined Trump’s staff. Scaramucci had criticized Reince Priebus, Kelly’s predecessor as chief of staff, and White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon in a vulgarity-laced interview published by the New Yorker.
‘Kind of Hurtful’
Job security for Sessions became an embarrassingly open question -- “it’s kind of hurtful,” the attorney general said at one point -- after Trump’s attacks on Twitter. The president called Sessions “weak” for recusing himself from the federal criminal investigation into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election and whether the president or any of his associates colluded with Moscow. He also said Sessions had taken “a VERY weak position” on “Hillary Clinton crimes” and “Intel leakers!”
Sessions has quietly been moving in recent weeks to ramp up the department’s efforts against leakers. “Some people need to go to jail,” Sessions said last week in an interview with Fox News. “If we can make cases, they are going to jail.”
It wasn’t immediately clear, however, if Sessions can do anything about leaks related to the investigation into the Russia inquiry because he’s recused himself from any matters related to it.
In the latest leak to embarrass the White House, the Washington Post on Thursday published transcripts of private phone conversations between Trump and the leaders of Australia and Mexico, held soon after the president took office in January.
The president’s repeated attacks on his own attorney general prompted a backlash among Republican senators, who rallied around Sessions, a former colleague.
‘Hell to Pay’
“If Jeff Sessions is fired, there will be holy hell to pay,” Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina told CNN last week.
Although Sessions was an early and vocal supporter of Trump during last year’s Republican primaries, he drew the president’s ire by steeping away from the Russia investigation, which is now being led by former FBI Director Robert Mueller. The investigation has since broadened and dominated much of Trump’s presidency, entangling top White House officials and family members of the president.
Trump’s criticism was seen by some as a move to eventually put someone in charge at the Justice Department who would fire Mueller from his post as special counsel.
Kelly’s call to Sessions signals a “dialing back any potential attack on Bob Mueller,” Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, a Rhode Island Democrat, said on MSNBC on Thursday.
In an effort to ensure that, Republican and Democratic senators announced measures Thursday that would require a judicial review of any attempt to remove a special counsel.
“Our legislation would allow judicial review of the firing of any special counsel that was impaneled to look at the President or their team -- regardless of party,” Graham, who is sponsoring one of the bills with Democratic Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey, said in a statement.
— With assistance by Billy House