Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein pushed back against criticism of the Department of Justice’s announcement that it may begin subpoenaing journalists during investigations of classified information leaks.
On Friday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said the department was “reviewing policies affecting media subpoenas,” a move that free speech and press freedom groups said would compel reporters to break agreements to conceal a source’s identity or face legal consequences.
In an interview on Fox News Sunday, Rosenstein dismissed the criticism.
“That’s an overreaction, Chris. The attorney general has been very clear,” Rosenstein said. “We’re after the leakers, not the journalists. We’re after people who are committing crimes.”
But pressed by host Chris Wallace on whether he would prosecute journalists for failing to disclose sources, Rosenstein dodged the question.
“You don’t consider the publishing of classified information as a crime,” Wallace said.
“I don’t think you can draw any general line like that, it depends on the facts and circumstances. Generally speaking, reporters who publish information are not committing a crime. But there might be a circumstance that they do. I haven’t seen any of those to date, but I wouldn’t rule it out.”
A number of press advocacy groups decried Sessions’ announcement last week as a threat to reporters and whistleblowers.
Freedom of the Press Foundation senior reporter Peter Sterne said the DOJ was “explicitly threatening to haul journalists before grand juries and force them to testify about their confidential sources or face jail time.”
“Sessions’ comments seem intended to have a chilling effect on journalism, by making reporters and their sources think twice before publishing information that the government does not like,” Sterne said. “That will leave leave all Americans less informed about what the Trump administration is doing behind closed doors.”
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