PRESS FREEDOM GROUPS filed suit today to force the government to disclose more about how and when it obtains journalists’ communications, amid reports that the Department of Justice under Attorney General Jeff Sessions is pursuing a record number of leak investigations.
The question the groups hope to answer is whether the Trump administration — openly hostile toward news media — has jettisoned or modified rules that limit the government’s ability to spy on journalists while they do their jobs.
Those rules were made more stringent by former President Barack Obama’s attorney general Eric Holder in 2014, after outcry when it was revealed that the administration had secretly obtained call records from the Associated Press and surveilled a Fox News reporter, naming him a co-conspirator in a national security leak case. Holder pledged that his department would go after journalists’ records in criminal cases only as a “last resort.”
Carrie DeCell, a staff attorney with Knight First Amendment Institute, which is bringing the suit along with the Freedom of the Press Foundation, said that “we have seen the DOJ media guidelines that Obama released, but we understand that Sessions is reconsidering those guidelines, and the way the government uses subpoenas against journalists.”
In August, Sessions announced that his department was reviewing the guidelines as part of a crackdown on leaks but did not specify what changes might be made. Sessions also told Congress this month that he has 27 investigations open into leaks of classified information to reporters – compared to just three last year. (Not all leaks are illegal, and many of the disclosures that Trump has publicly complained about would likely not be considered criminal.)
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