The Justice Department Will No Longer Be Able To Label A Reporter A Criminal Co-Conspirator In A Leak Investigation

Eric Holder DOJ hearing

The Justice Department will no longer be able to label a reporter a criminal co-conspirator, it announced Friday as part of extensive revisions into how it handles leak investigations involving the media. 

The revisions came after President Barack Obama ordered a review, and after Attorney General Eric Holder met with approximately 30 news organisations in seven separate meetings.

The Justice Department came under fire in May after it was revealed that it had labelled Fox News reporter James Rosen a “co-conspirator” in one leak investigation — and obtained the phone records of Associated Press journalists in another.

Former DoJ spokesman Matt Miller tweeted that, practically, the revisions to the department’s policy were a win for the press. 

The big changes:

  • News organisations will be given advance notification cases in which the Justice Department wants access to records, except in rare cases.
  • The Justice Department will no longer be able to obtain a search warrant for a reporter’s records, unless the reporter is the target of a criminal investigation. The Justice Department came under intense scrutiny for labelling Fox’s Rosen an “aider and abettor and/or co-conspirator” in that investigation.
  • The department will create a “News Media Review Committee” to advise the Attorney General when the Justice Department seeks media-related records. 

Here’s Holder’s statement on the changes:

“The Department of Justice is firmly committed to ensuring our nation’s security, and protecting the American people, while at the same time safeguarding the freedom of the press.  These revised guidelines will help ensure the proper balance is struck when pursuing investigations into unauthorised disclosures.  While these reforms will make a meaningful difference, there are additional protections that only Congress can provide.  For that reason, we continue to support the passage of media shield legislation.  I look forward to working with leaders from both parties to achieve this goal, and am grateful to all of the journalists, free speech advocates, experts, and Administration leaders who have come together in recent weeks – in good faith, and with mutual respect – to guide and inform the changes we announce today.”

Here’s the full report:

Justice Department Report on Review of News Media Policies

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