Marie Altaver / AFP
On Saturday, the Justice Department said it would not secretly obtain correspondents’ records during its leak investigations, a policy shift that abandons a practice criticized by news organizations and press freedom groups.
The backsliding follows President Joe Biden’s pledge last month, who said it was “simply, simply, wrong” to seize journalists’ records and that he would not allow the Department of Justice to continue the practice. Although Biden’s comments in an interview were not immediately accompanied by any change in policy, two statements from the White House and the Department of Justice on Saturday signal a formal shift from the years-long investigation style.
Both Democratic and Republican administrations have used subpoenas and court orders to obtain journalists’ records in an effort to identify sources who disclosed classified information. But the practice has received renewed scrutiny over the past month as Justice Department officials alerted reporters at three news organizations — Washington Postand CNN and New York times That their phone records were obtained in the last year of the Trump administration.
The New York Times says the gag order prevented the newspaper from revealing a secret court battle معركة
The last revelation came on Friday night when he was times mentioned Existence of a restraining order That prevented the newspaper from revealing a secret court battle over efforts to obtain the email records of four reporters. This conflict began during the Trump administration but continued under Biden’s Justice Department, which eventually moved to withdraw the gag order.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Saturday that no one in the White House was aware of the restraining order as of Friday night, but more broadly, “issuing subpoenas for the records of reporters in the leak investigations is not in line with the president’s policy directive.” to management.”
In a separate statement, Justice Department spokesman Anthony Cooley said that “in a change to its longstanding practice,” the department will not seek mandatory legal action in leak investigations to obtain source information from members of the news media who are performing their jobs.
“The department highly values press freedom, protects First Amendment values, and is committed to taking all appropriate steps to ensure the independence of journalists,” he added.
It excluded “compulsory legal procedures” for journalists in the leak investigation, and the administration also appears to be saying it will not force journalists to reveal in court the identity of their sources.
The Justice Department statement leaves unanswered questions
The statement did not say whether the Justice Department would continue to conduct aggressive investigations into the leak without obtaining the correspondents’ records. Nor did it specify exactly who would be considered a member of the media for policy purposes and how broad the protection would be.
However, it was a startling reflection on a practice that has persisted across many presidential administrations. Obama’s Justice Department, headed by then-Attorney General Eric Holder, alerted the Associated Press in 2013 that it had secretly obtained two months of telephone records from reporters and editors in what the chief executive of News Collaboration described as a “massive and unprecedented intrusion” into newsgathering. activities.
After backlash, Holder announced a revised set of guidelines for leak investigations, including a request for permission from the highest levels of management before subpoenas are issued for news media records.
But the department has retained its power to seize journalists’ records, and recent disclosures to news media organizations show that the practice persisted in the Trump-era Department of Justice as part of multiple investigations.