The epidemic of government workers leaking classified information to the media is largely fueled by animosity toward President Trump, said Attorney General Jeff Sessions.
Speaking to The Washington Times just hours after the Justice Department secured a guilty plea in a leak case involving a senior Senate staffer, he said he has made weeding out the leakers a major priority.
“My view when I came here was that there was way too much leaking, but it really seemed to accelerate when President Trump became president,” he told The Times.
Leaks dogged Mr. Trump even before he took office, with the salacious and uncorroborated Steele dossier and secret information about his national security adviser leaking before Inauguration Day.
Then came leaks of transcripts of the president’s calls with multiple foreign leaders, and leaks from inside investigations into the 2016 presidential campaign and Russian attempts to meddle.
Mr. Trump last year demanded the Justice Department take tougher action on leakers, and Mr. Sessions responded by vowing to increase prosecutions.
“When I came there were three open leak investigations. We raised that to 27 in the first year,” Mr. Sessions said.
And he said there’s a “high political quotient” among some of the leakers.
For example, National Security Agency contractor Reality Winner, who supplied to the media a 2016 “top secret” National Security Agency report on Russian meddling in 2016, was an outspoken supporter of Sen. Bernard Sanders of Vermont, a socialist who nearly won the 2016 Democratic presidential nomination. Winner also blasted Mr. Trump on Twitter, calling him an “orange fascist” and saying “people suck” for electing him.
Winner was sentenced to 63 months in prison earlier this year.
Other leaking cases that investigators have sussed out didn’t appear to be aimed at the president.
Terry Albury, a former counterterrorism agent at the FBI, gave classified information to the media in an effort to expose how the bureau monitored minority communities. His actions largely predated the Trump presidency.
Mr. Albury will be sentenced this week, after pleading guilty in April.
For his part Mr. Sessions, a former senator, said he is most troubled by the leaks that have come from congressional staffers.
One such investigation netted James Wolfe, who had a three-decade career working for the Senate Intelligence Committee. While not charged with leaking information, Mr. Wolfe did plead guilty this week to lying to FBI agents investigating the release of secret information to journalists.
Prosecutors said Mr. Wolfe made false statements about his relationships with several reporters, including one with whom he had a romantic relationship.
“There has been a perception for a long time that far too many leaks are out of Congress and congressional staffers,” Mr. Sessions said. “I hope this sends a very clear message to members of the staff of the House and the Senate that they are bound by these laws too and we are going to be aggressive.”