'Legitimately Insane': To Scare Leakers, Sessions Wants White House Staff Polygraphed

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'Legitimately Insane': To Scare Leakers, Sessions Wants White House Staff Polygraphed

"A crackdown on leaks is a crackdown on the free press and on democracy as a whole."

Attorney General Jeff Sessions arrives to view the solar eclipse at the White House on August 21, 2017 in Washington, DC.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions arrives to view the solar eclipse at the White House on August 21, 2017 in Washington, D.C.  (Photo: Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Amid a furious and "chilling" push by the Trump Justice Department to root out leakers—which has included suggestions that even journalists could be targetedAxios reported Sunday that Attorney General Jeff Sessions has floated the idea of putting White House officials through a polygraph test, a proposal that was quickly denounced as "legitimately insane."

"A crackdown on leaks is a crackdown on the free press and on democracy as a whole."
—Ben Wizner, ACLU

"Sessions' idea is to do a one-time, one-issue, polygraph test of everyone on the [National Security Council] staff," writes Axios's Jonathan Swan. "Interrogators would sit down with every single NSC staffer (there's more than 100 of them), and ask them, individually, what they know about the leaks of transcripts of the president's phone calls with foreign leaders. Sessions suspects those leaks came from within the NSC, and thinks that a polygraph test—at the very least—would scare them out of leaking again."

CNN independently verified Swan's reporting Sunday night.

Swan notes that Sessions has pitched the idea to "multiple people" within the Trump administration.

The thought of potentially administering polygraph tests to White House staffers reportedly came to Sessions after transcripts of President Donald Trump's "crazy" phone conversations with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto and Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull were leaked to the press last month.

"Sessions has told associates he likes the idea of targeting the foreign leader phone calls because there's a small enough universe of people who would have had access to these transcripts," Swan reports. "That Sessions would seriously entertain such a startling action reveals how frustrated he's become about the rampant leaking of classified information."

As Common Dreams reported, Jeff Sessions declared last month that the Justice Department under his leadership plans to expand and intensify its pursuit of those leaking to the media, and asserted that the Trump administration has "tripled" the number of leak probes during its first seven months in power.

This is insane. Legitimately insane that the attorney general would keep bringing this up."
—Asawin Suebsaeng, The Daily Beast

Civil libertarians and journalists have characterized the Trump administration's posture toward leaks—and its hostility to the press more broadly—as "McCarthy-esque."

"Every American should be concerned about the Trump administration's threat to step up its efforts against whistleblowers and journalists," concluded Ben Wizner, director of the ACLU's Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project. "A crackdown on leaks is a crackdown on the free press and on democracy as a whole."

Reporters and commentators reacted with a mixture of amazement and dismay to Sessions' reported idea on social media:

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