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Sessions declines 'blanket' assurance to not jail journalists

Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsDems pick up deep-red legislative seat in Missouri Grassley to Sessions: Policy for employees does not comply with the law New immigration policy leaves asylum seekers in the lurch MORE on Wednesday said he could not make a “blanket commitment” to not putting journalists in jail.

During testimony in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Amy KlobucharAmy Jean KlobucharOvernight Regulation: EPA sued over water rule delay | House passes bill to ease ObamaCare calorie rule | Regulators talk bitcoin | Patient groups oppose FDA 'right to try' bill Overnight Finance: Senators near two-year budget deal | Trump would 'love to see a shutdown' over immigration | Dow closes nearly 600 points higher after volatile day | Trade deficit at highest level since 2008 | Pawlenty leaving Wall Street group Dem senator presses FTC to ramp up Equifax hack probe MORE (D-Minn.) asked Sessions if he could pledge to not place “reporters in jail for doing their jobs.”

“Well, I don’t know that I can make a blanket commitment to that effect. But I will say this, we have not taken any aggressive action against the media at this point,” Sessions replied.

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“But we have matters that involve the most serious national security issues that put our country at risk," he said, "and we will utilize the authorities that we have legally and constitutionally if we have to.”

The comments from Sessions come after President Trump, unhappy with a story published by NBC News, said last week that network licenses should be challenged. While the major networks do not have licenses themselves, their local affiliates do. 

The Justice Department in August announced a crackdown on government leakers that would concentrate on prosecuting individuals who disclose sensitive information to foreign officials or members of the press.

“We respect the important role the press plays and we’ll give them respect, but it’s not unlimited,” Sessions said at the time.

“They cannot place lives at risk with impunity. We must balance the press’ role with protecting our national security and the lives of those who serve in the intelligence community, the Armed Forces and all law-abiding Americans.”

The attorney general in August also said the department would evaluate its policies on press subpoenas.

Democrats and members of the media have raised concerns over Trump’s rhetoric about journalists and what it could mean for reporters during his administration.

Under former President Obama, the Justice Department charged eight individuals on allegations that they provided sensitive information to the press, according to the Freedom of the Press Foundation.

“We always try to find an alternative way, as you probably know, Sen. Klobuchar, to directly confronting media persons, but that’s not a total blanket protection,” Sessions said during the Wednesday hearing.

Klobuchar noted her question stems from concerns over Trump’s recent comments about network licenses.