Sep 10, 2017

Scoop: Jeff Sessions' lie detector idea

Susan Walsh / AP

Attorney General Jeff Sessions has told associates he wants to put the entire National Security Council staff through a lie detector test to root out leakers. It's unclear whether this will ever happen, but Sessions floated the idea to multiple people, as recently as last month.

Sessions' idea is to do a one-time, one-issue, polygraph test of everyone on the NSC staff. 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.

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. Also, the idea that the President of the United States can't have private conversations with foreign leaders was a bridge too far, even for Democrats.

Ian Prior, a spokesman for Sessions, declined comment when presented with the details of this report.

Why this matters: That Sessions would seriously entertain such a startling action reveals how frustrated he's become about the rampant leaking of classified information. Leak probes like the one Sessions announced at a big press conference on August 4 have happened under previous administrations, and rarely with any significant success. In fact, they can even backfire – look no further than the leak probe that ensnared James Cartwright, Obama's favorite general. Obama later pardoned Cartwright. So much for cracking down on leakers.

Bottom line: Sessions seems to understand that it's extremely tough to successfully prosecute leakers, especially when they are career intelligence professionals who are skilled at covering their digital tracks.

Go deeper

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The coronavirus pandemic has forced a large-scale experiment in working from home. It has gone well enough that many companies are expanding their remote work expectations for the foreseeable future, and remote employees want to continue to work that way.

Yes, but: The downsides of remote work — less casual interaction with colleagues, an over-reliance on Zoom, lack of in-person collaboration and longer hours — could over time diminish the short-term gains.

Hong Kong's economic future hangs in the balance

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

As Beijing forces a sweeping national security law on Hong Kong, the once semi-autonomous city's status as one of Asia's largest financial hubs is at risk.

Why it matters: Political freedoms and strong rule of law helped make Hong Kong a thriving center for international banking and finance. But China's leaders may be betting that top firms in Hong Kong will trade some political freedoms for the economic prosperity Beijing can offer.

Why space is good politics for Trump

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

President Trump's exuberance around today's scheduled SpaceX launch — including his decision to travel to Florida to watch — goes beyond a personal fascination with astronauts, rockets, and how to make money and wield power in the next frontier.

The bottom line: There's a presidential election in November, and the U.S. space program enjoys wide support across party lines. It's good politics for Trump, at least for now.