- The Washington Times - Monday, July 31, 2017

The Justice Department is expected to deliver news this week on progress in sniffing out the “astonishing” number of leakers who have bedeviled the Trump administration, aiming to deliver on the president’s promise to stop the unauthorized release of sensitive information.

Officials are unlikely to detail specific investigations since the department usually waits until criminal charges are filed before going into any depth.

But they are likely to confirm the soaring rate of leaks.

“We have seen an astonishing increase in the number of leaks of classified national security information in recent months,” department spokeswoman Sarah Isgur Flores said last week.

How the rate of leak investigations will translate into prosecutions under the Trump administration remains to be seen.

The Obama administration brought more leak cases — at least eight prosecutions — than all predecessors combined. But the number of notifications that DOJ received from intelligence agencies about unauthorized disclosures of classified information during that time was far higher.

In 2016 the Justice Department received 37 “crimes reports” concerning unauthorized disclosures of classified information, according to documents obtained by Steven Aftergood, a government secrecy specialist with the Federation of American Scientists.

From 2009 through 2016 the Justice Department received an average of 39 such reports — a high of 55 in 2013 and a low of 18 in 2015, according to the data he received through a Freedom of Information Act request.

“Not all leaks are criminal violations,” Mr. Aftergood said, noting that prosecutors typically only seek to bring charges in cases in which a person disclosed classified information. “To prosecute a disclosure of nonclassified information is not impossible, but it would require some legal acrobatics we have not seen in a while.”

Even in cases where classified information has been leaked, investigators can’t always identify the culprit. Leak investigations generally start by process of elimination, and the more people who had access to the leaked information, the trickier it is to pinpoint the source.

Federal prosecutors say they’ve been able to identify the source of at least one classified information leak this year. In June 25-year-old federal contractor Reality Winner was charged in connection with leaking a classified National Security Agency document to a news organization.

Other leaks are still being probed.

Details about a suicide bombing outside a pop concert in Manchester, England, leaked to American media outlets, briefly causing British law enforcement to stop sharing information with U.S. agencies. Attorney General Jeff Sessions vowed a crackdown, though no charges have been filed in that case.

Details of Mr. Trump’s phone conversations with his counterparts in Australia and Mexico have also leaked, as have details about his Oval Office meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

The expected Justice Department announcement could be a way to smooth over difficulties between the president and the attorney general. Mr. Trump lashed out at Mr. Sessions on numerous fronts last week, prompting some to speculate the attorney general could be forced out.

But the White House on Monday rejected reports that the president might ask Mr. Sessions to move into the post at the Department of Homeland Security, which was vacated by Gen. John F. Kelly’s move to become Mr. Trump’s chief of staff.

“There are no conversations about any Cabinet members moving in any capacity,” White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said.

If the department isn’t prepared to announce new arrests or criminal charges, Mr. Aftergood said it’s unclear why they’re rushing to give an update.

“To say there is lack of discipline within their own administration, I’m not sure what that gets them,” he said. “Could it discourage future leakers? Maybe. But I think people already know leaks of classified information are discouraged and may be prosecuted, so I don’t know that it serves a constructive purpose either.”

• Dave Boyer contributed to this report.

• Andrea Noble can be reached at anoble@washingtontimes.com.

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