On Friday, United States Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that the Department of Justice would increase its pursuit of investigations into unauthorized disclosures. In his statement, he said he would also revisit internal DOJ guidelines that address how and when federal prosecutors can use subpoenas and other tools to obtain the records of journalists as a part of these investigations.
The guidelines were previously amended in 2015, when news media organizations led by the Reporters Committee met with then-Attorney General Eric Holder to strengthen protections for reporters in the wake of several leaks cases brought by the Obama Administration.
Reporters Committee Chairman David Boardman made the following statement:
“What the attorney general is suggesting is a dangerous threat to the freedom of the American people to know and understand what their leaders are doing, and why.”
Reporters Committee Executive Director Bruce Brown made the following statement:
“The attorney general’s intent to revisit the guidelines is deeply troubling as is the frame he put around it today – that reporters are putting lives at risk. Journalists and news organizations have a long history of handling this information in a responsible way, working with government officials to evaluate potential harms, and taking steps to mitigate any damage when there is an overwhelming public interest in revealing it.
“The current guidelines reflect a great deal of good-faith discussion between the news media and a wide range of interests from within the Department of Justice, including career prosecutors and key nonpolitical personnel. They carefully balance the need to enforce the law and protect national security with the value of a free press that can hold the government accountable to the people.”