Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley says a recent memo written by the attorney general to Justice Department heads that instructs them not to communicate with Congress without pre-approval from the Justice Department Office of Legal Affairs (OLA) is almost certainly illegal.
The Iowa Republican told Jeff Sessions in a letter Tuesday that his recent memo "does not appear to comply with existing law," and he asked Sessions to revise the memo accordingly. Sessions, who apparently told the heads of DOJ divisions that they should not communicate with "senators, representatives, congressional committees, or congressional staff without advance coordination and consultation with OLA" — has made cracking down on leaks a key part of his tenure at the DOJ. He held an entire press conference on the subject last year, saying,
Grassley, who has prioritized whistleblower protections in his time in the Senate, said that while he appreciated DOJ's efforts to speak from a coordinated front, he fears Sessions' letter may violate the law and prevent critical information from reaching Congress. Grassley pointed out that Sessions' memo doesn't address the rights of DOJ employees "to make protected disclosures directly to Congress."
"The law is clear that any non-disclosure agreement or policy, including any policy that purports to restrict the communications of federal employees, must contain a clear exception for lawful whistleblowing. Additionally, denying or interfering with the right of employees to furnish information to Congress is also against the law. Federal officials who deny or interfere with those rights are not entitled to have their salaries paid by taxpayers' dollars."
"Without directly addressing the rights of federal employees to communicate with Congress, the memorandum could leave the impression that the department is attempting to prevent lawful disclosures and discourage employees from exercising their statutory and constitutional rights to directly communicate with Congress," Grassley continued. "Thus, please review this memorandum and address the deficiencies I have raised as soon as possible with a corrective communication to all employees who received it."
The attorney general has been under intense scrutiny from the White House, absorbing multiple negative tweets. More recently the president has lately taken to bashing the leadership of the DOJ in general on Twitter, as special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian election meddling and any connections to the Trump campaign continues.