Biden’s Justice Department says it will no longer confiscate journalists’ records for leak investigation

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“Going forward, in line with the Presidential directive, the Justice Department – ​​in a change to its longstanding practice – will not seek mandatory legal process in leak investigations to obtain source information from members of the news media to do its job, Anthony Coley, director of the Department of Public Affairs, said in a statement.

President Joe Biden’s Justice Department commitment comes just a day after The New York Times reported A top lawyer for the newspaper had revealed that the department, continuing under the Trump administration and then under the current administration, had sought to obtain the email logs of four of its journalists. The disclosure was the latest in a series of revelations about the Justice Department secretly obtaining records from journalists, including a CNN reporter, as well as reporters from the Washington Post and other news organizations.

Several top Times executives were informed earlier this year about the Biden administration’s attempt to obtain emails from its reporters, but were bound by a gag order — with the attorney at the newsroom and the paper’s executive editor. According to the Times, David McCraw said to stop sharing the information.

McCraw shared Friday that the Justice Department had attempted to seize the email logs of four journalists — Matt Apuzzo, Adam Goldman, Eric Lichtblau and Michael Schmidt — from Google, which manages the Times’ email system.

In a statement on Saturday, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said that “no one in the White House was aware of the gag order until Friday night” because of “the Justice Department’s independence in specific criminal matters”.

“While the White House does not interfere with criminal investigations, issuing subpoenas to the records of journalists in the leak investigation is not in line with the President’s policy to the Department, and the Justice Department has reaffirmed that it is used to proceed Won’t be done,” said Saki.

While the department under Attorney General Merrick Garland is committed to ending the practice, formal guidelines in the department have not changed, meaning the practice could be reinstated under another administration.

The Times reported Friday that on January 5, prosecutors at the US Attorney’s office in Washington obtained a sealed court order requiring Google to secretly turn over the email log records of four Times journalists. However, Google protested and demanded that the Times be informed of the government’s attempts to seize records, the Times reported.

According to the Times, the Justice Department continued to pursue requests for email logs after the Biden administration took power.

In early March prosecutors asked a judge to allow McCraw to be informed about the attempt, but the notification came with a nondisclosure order barring him from talking to others about the case. , McCraw told the Times. He later held talks so that he could discuss it with the Times general counsel, outside lawyers and two officials, the Times reported.

McCraw said the Justice Department informed him on Wednesday that it would ask the court to set aside Google’s order. And on Friday, a federal court lifted the gag order, freeing her to speak publicly about the legal battle, McCraw told the newspaper.

The Justice Department did not say which government leaked the media it was investigating. But the Times said that at the time of the confiscated records and the journalists involved in the investigation, the leaked investigations were covered on April 22, 2017, during the 2016 election of former FBI director James Comey, the Times reported. Handling of various investigations was explained.

The Times first reported in 2020, and confirmed by CNNThe existence of a Justice Department leak investigation involving classified information that played a role in their 2016 decision. Declare that no charges will be brought In the FBI’s Hillary Clinton email investigation.

Two people familiar with the matter told the Times that prosecutors discussed throughout the past year whether to close the investigation into the leaks at Comey.

As the Times reports, the FBI and carrier prosecutors wanted to keep the media leak investigation open and therefore obtained a court order sealed in January to force Google to turn over the journalists’ email data.

Times executive editor Dean Baquet criticized both the Trump and Biden administrations for targeting Times journalists.

“Clearly, Google did the right thing, but it should never have come to this,” Baquet said in a statement to the Times. “The Justice Department worked tirelessly to identify sources for coverage that was clearly in the public interest in the last 15 days of the Trump administration. And the Biden administration continued to pursue it. As I said earlier, it is deeply undermines the freedom of the press.”

New York Times publisher AG Sulzberger welcomed the move but asked the DOJ to make its objectives more clear.

“This is a welcome move to protect the ability of the press to provide the public with essential information about what their government is doing,” it said in a statement on Saturday. “However, there is much more to be done and we still await an explanation as to why the Justice Department went so aggressively to seize the records of journalists.”

Asked Saturday to comment on the Times report, Cooley told CNN that “on several occasions in recent months, the DOJ … moved to suspend enforcement of the order and the production of any records.” before voluntarily moved to withdraw the order.”

A spokesperson for Google told the Times that it does not comment on specific matters, but the company is “strongly committed to protecting our customers’ data and we have an obligation to notify our customers of any legal requests.” There’s a long history.”

The government’s attempt to confiscate the email data of Times journalists is the latest incident to emerge after the Times reported on Wednesday That the Biden administration notified the paper that in 2020 the Trump administration confiscated nearly four months’ worth of phone records in 2017 from four journalists as part of a leak investigation.
CNN It was reported last month that the Trump administration secretly solicited and obtained CNN correspondent Barbara Starr’s 2017 phone and email records. Washington Post reported that the Trump Justice Department obtained 2017 phone records of three of its journalists who covered the FBI’s Russia investigation, and attempted to obtain their email logs.
After those revelations, President Joe Biden told CNN last month That he would not allow his Justice Department to seize reporters’ communications, calling it “just, just wrong.”

Announcing the end to the practice, Coley said Saturday that the Justice Department “has now completed a review to determine all instances” in which the department had “pending mandatory requests from journalists in the leak investigation.”

“The department strongly values ​​a free press while protecting First Amendment values, and is committed to taking all appropriate steps to ensure the freedom of journalists,” he said.

The Post’s executive editor Sally Buzby on Saturday called on the Biden administration and the Justice Department to “provide a full account of the chain of events in both administrations and to implement permanent safeguards to prevent any future recurrence.” did.

“Secret attempts to obtain journalists’ phone and email records severely impede the ability of news organizations to disclose information of apparent public interest, damaging the First Amendment,” he said in a statement.

This story has been updated with additional details.

CNN’s Evan Perez, Brian Stelter, Paul LeBlanc, Jeremy Herb, Jessica Schneider and Oliver Darcy contributed to this report.

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