Law

Sessions unveiling leak crackdown on heels of transcript bombshell

Attorney General Jeff Sessions and other top administration officials are making a show of force Friday in their battle against illegal leaks, planning to announce details of investigations into leaks of classified material.

The press briefing comes on the heels of one of the biggest leaks under this administration – the disclosure of transcripts of President Trump’s phone calls with two foreign leaders in January. Former federal prosecutors tell Fox News that leak likely constitutes a federal crime, and lawmakers of both parties have voiced concern about how that material got out and the security implications.

“Leaking the phone calls between our president and other heads of state is nothing short of a national disgrace,” Kellyanne Conway, White House counselor, told “Fox & Friends” on Friday. “I want there to be bipartisan outrage.”

She noted the West Wing is a “small place” and finding the leakers might be “easier” than some realize. 

It’s unclear exactly what leaks and cases Sessions and other officials might discuss Friday, in a briefing set for 11 a.m. ET.

Sessions, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and National Counterintelligence and Security Center Director William Evanina are all expected to brief the public at Justice Department headquarters.

On Capitol Hill, Utah Republican Sen. Mike Lee said Thursday there should be criminal prosecution for leaking classified information, suggesting the transcript leak is such a case. 

“Whoever leaked these needs to be found out and needs to be reprimanded, needs to be fired,” Lee told Fox News' "America's News HQ." “This is unacceptable and should never happen.”

Lee, who practiced law before being elected to the Senate in 2010, said such a leak “is a felony, a very serious federal felony offense.”

Based on the leaked documents, The Washington Post reported new details Thursday about Trump's tense phone calls in late January with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto and Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. In the former, Trump reportedly told the Mexican leader to stop publicly saying his government would not pay for a border wall. 

The newspaper said the transcripts had notes indicating they had been classified by the chief of staff on the National Security Council. The Post said it obtained full transcripts, which were “produced by White House staff” and based on records kept by White House note-takers.

“The unauthorized release of these documents to the press is a crime,” Joe diGenova, the former U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, told Fox News. “The series of acts involving release of notes of the president’s conversations with foreign leaders, and these transcripts, are a serious threat to national security.”

While some details of those calls already had emerged in February, the release of the transcripts marks a much bigger blow to a White House trying to crack down on leaks.

Claiming the leaks imperil the ability of the U.S. government to conduct foreign policy, diGenova called on the attorney general to institute a federal criminal grand jury to find the leakers. He also said the phone records of the reporters and editors of The Washington Post should be subpoenaed, something the journalists would surely protest.

Even some critics of the president have spoken out against the leaks, saying such efforts harm foreign policy efforts.

“Leaking the transcript of a presidential call to a foreign leader is unprecedented, shocking, and dangerous,” David Frum wrote in the Atlantic on Thursday. “It is vitally important that a president be able to speak confidentially—and perhaps even more important that foreign leaders understand that they can reply in confidence.” 

Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, also told The Daily Beast the leak is "absolutely" troubling and should be investigated by Congress. 

Last week, the president, lashing out against in his attorney general in public, criticized Sessions for not doing enough to find the leakers.

“I want the attorney general to be much tougher on the leaks from intelligence agencies,” Trump said in the Rose Garden on July 25.

Sessions himself, speaking to Fox News’ Tucker Carlson last week, admitted he has not been satisfied with the efforts to investigate leaks, which have repeatedly hampered the president since his inauguration.

"I have not been happy with the past prosecutions and investigations of criminal leaks," Sessions said.

Fox News’ Alex Pappas contributed to this report.