Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein set off alarms with a veiled statement about leaks

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein issued a stunning statement Thursday night that appeared to be a rebuke of intelligence leaks roundly criticized by President Donald Trump and Republicans at large.

The statement said Americans should think twice "before accepting as true any stories attributed to anonymous 'officials.'"

"Americans should be skeptical about anonymous allegations. The Department of Justice has a long-established policy to neither confirm nor deny such allegations," Rosenstein said.

Trump, conservative lawmakers, and his surrogates have made the subject of intelligence leaks their prime focus amid a broad FBI investigation of Russia's interference in the 2016 election. The investigation, headed by special counsel Robert Mueller, is examining whether the Trump campaign colluded with the Kremlin to help get Trump elected.

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James Comey testifies on Russian interference In US election
Former FBI Director James Comey is sworn in prior to testifying before a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on Russia's alleged interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., June 8, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 8: People watch a ticker tape display showing headlines of the days news that former FBI Director James Comey will testify at a Senate hearingon Russia and U.S. President Donald Trump on June 8, 2017 in New York City. Comey said that President Donald Trump pressured him to drop the FBI's investigation into former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn and demanded Comey's loyalty during the one-on-one meetings he had with president. (Photo by Stephanie Keith/Getty Images)
The witness table where former FBI Director James Comey will face the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee and testify on June 8 about his meetings with President Trump sits at the ready in Washington, U.S., June 7, 2017. REUTERS/Jim Bourg TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Senator Richard Burr, a Republican from North Carolina and chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, center delivers opening remarks before the start of a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing with James Comey, former director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), not pictured, in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, June 8, 2017. Comey in prepared remarks to the committee said U.S. President Donald Trump sought his loyalty and urged him to drop the investigation into former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn. Photographer: Zach Gibson/Bloomberg via Getty Images
TOPSHOT - Former FBI Director James Comey arrives to testify during a US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington,DC, June 8, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / Brendan Smialowski (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
People wait in line hours aheads of time for the start of former FBI Director James Comey's testimony before a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on Russia's alleged interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S. June 8, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 08: Former United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York Preet Bharara attends the Senate Intelligence Committee where FBI Director James Comey is sent to testify in the Hart Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill June 8, 2017 in Washington, DC. Comey said that President Donald Trump pressured him to drop the FBI's investigation into former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn and demanded Comey's loyalty during the one-on-one meetings he had with president. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
Former FBI Director James Comey prepares to testify before a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on "Russian Federation Efforts to Interfere in the 2016 U.S. Elections" on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S. June 8, 2017. REUTERS/Jim Bourg
People wait in line hours aheads of time for the start of former FBI Director James Comey's testimony before a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on Russia's alleged interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S. June 8, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
Preparations are made before former FBI Director James Comey testifies during a US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington,DC, June 8, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / Brendan Smialowski (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
James Comey, former director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), is sworn in to a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, June 8, 2017. Comey in prepared remarks to the committee said U.S. President Donald Trump sought his loyalty and urged him to drop the investigation into former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn. Photographer: Zach Gibson/Bloomberg via Getty Images
The gavel and placard for Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr, a Republican from North Carolina, sit on a table in the hearing room ahead of testimony by former Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Director James Comey in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, June 8, 2017. Comey in prepared remarks to the committee said U.S. President Donald Trump sought his loyalty and urged him to drop the investigation into former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn. Photographer: Zach Gibson/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Former FBI Director James Comey testifies during a US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, June 8, 2017. Fired FBI director James Comey took the stand Thursday in a crucial Senate hearing, repeating explosive allegations that President Donald Trump badgered him over the highly sensitive investigation Russia's meddling in the 2016 election. / AFP PHOTO / MANDEL NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
U.S. Capitol police officers stand outside the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing room ahead of testimony by former Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Director James Comey in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, June 8, 2017. Comey in prepared remarks to the committee said U.S. President Donald Trump sought his loyalty and urged him to drop the investigation into former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn. Photographer: Zach Gibson/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Former FBI Director James Comey arrives to testify during a US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington,DC, June 8, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / Mandel NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
Senator Mark Warner(C)D-VA and Vice Chairman, Intelligence Committee and Senator Richard Burr(R), Chairman, Intelligence Committee greet former FBI Director James Comey as he arrives to testify during a US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington,DC, June 8, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / Brendan Smialowski (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
Former FBI Director James Comey takes the oath before he testifies during a US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington,DC, June 8, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / Mandel NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
Former FBI Director James Comey takes the oath before he testifies during a US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington,DC, June 8, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / Brendan Smialowski (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
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In the latest instance of damaging leaks for the Trump White House, on Wednesday, The Washington Post reported that Mueller's investigation was examining whether Trump obstructed justice when he fired former FBI Director James Comey.

Changing the Russia narrative

That inquiry has taken multiple twists and turns since it was first launched nearly one year ago. Along the way, news outlets have reported on elements of the Russia probe, often citing unnamed U.S. government officials. Trump has frequently railed against such anonymous sources, at times calling them "fake," or "phony," and — as recently as Thursday — referring to the Russia investigation itself as a "witch hunt."

Trump surrogates have followed the president's line of criticism, which has propagated across cable news and conservative publications.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions decried such leaks in Senate testimony he gave on Tuesday. He said during his opening statement: "These false attacks, the innuendo, and the leaks, you can be sure, will not intimidate me."

Nevertheless, the tone of Rosenstein's statement sparked some pointed questions and analysis on social media:

Pursuing leakers

Trump administration officials have vowed to pursue people who leak information to reporters. One of the first examples of that came last week, when a 25-year-old NSA contractor named Reality Winner was charged with leaking top secret information to journalists.

Trump at one time called former FBI Director James Comey a "leaker" after Comey testified to the Senate Intelligence Committee last week that he shared with a friend a memo he wrote documenting an encounter with Trump.

That friend, a Columbia professor shared the memo — which revealed Trump's apparent attempts to sway the FBI's Russia investigation — with The New York Times. Comey said he believed that, once public, the memo would prompt the appointment of a special counsel

It did. Robert Mueller was appointed to oversee the investigation soon after. Trump has continued to condemn it and, earlier this week signaled that he might fire Mueller.

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