“You are correct in suggesting that the only way to make it sustainably sustainable is through legislation, and I will personally support working with Congress to develop legislation that would incorporate protections for obtaining press documents into legislation. “said the Attorney General. in response to a question from a journalist on the subject.
While Garland’s mention of engaging with Congress on the issue suggested formal interaction on behalf of the administration, his claim that he was speaking “personally” created some ambiguity as to whether he was announcing a position. formal in the name of the administration.
A White House spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the point.
Last month, the Justice Department officially informed reporters at The Times, Post and CNN of the covert efforts to obtain their phone and email records. In the case of The Times and CNN, court orders obtained by prosecutors also barred lawyers or senior media officials from disclosing the reader to obtain call tapes and email headers containing information on email accounts or phone numbers with which journalists were in contact. over several months.
Garland met with the heads of all three news outlets last week and pledged to make the new policy part of official Justice Department regulations. A spokesperson for media advocates said they welcomed the move but called for a more lasting engagement. Neither party, however, said at the time that Garland formally or unofficially endorsed the notion of codifying protections into legislation.
It later emerged that some of the leak investigations had also led to subpoenas to obtain information on email or telephone contacts of congressional staff and at least two members of Congress: Rep. Adam Schiff, who was the rank Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee when the probes leaked and is now chairman, and Rep. Eric Swalwell, a member of the same panel. It is not clear whether lawmakers, who have denied any wrongdoing, have ever been at the center of investigations or have simply been swept aside in an attempt to look for potential leads regarding congressional aides.
In 2009, then Attorney General Eric Holder approved a Journalist Shield Act that would have created statutory protections for journalists and their cases in federal courts. The measure was similar to laws or court-ordered protections in most states. However, the proposed federal legislation did not create the type of flat ban that Biden and Garland have now adopted on seeking reporters’ testimony or tapes from their email or phone accounts.
The Journalists’ Shield Act has been passed by the House at least three times in the past two decades, but has stumbled in the Senate. Such bills seemed to have gained momentum in the early days of the Obama administration, but collapsed after the massive release of information by WikiLeaks and former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, who raised questions about the potential impact of the new federal protections on journalists and their files.
Some former federal prosecutors and national security officials have warned that the Biden administration’s new policy effectively prohibiting such subpoenas in all cases where journalists are acting in their capacity as journalists is too broad and could hamper efforts to eliminate dangerous leaks of national security information. Other experts say efforts to determine journalists’ sources by citing journalists or their cases are rarely successful, and investigators have been much more fortunate in focusing on potential suspects and electronic information found on their computers. and telephones.