The US Government Seizing Reporters’ Records? What happens now?

Bruce Brown, second from right, executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, speaks accompanied by Washington Post publisher Fred Ryan, left, Washington Post Executive Editor Sally Buzbee, Washington Post general counsel Jay Kennedy, New York Times Publisher A.G. Sulzberger, and CNN executive vice president and general counsel David Vigilante after a meeting with Attorney General Merrick Garland on Monday. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
When you really stop and think about it, what was done was unconscionable.

The Justice Department of the United States of America went after the phone and email records of journalists from some of the nation’s most respected news outlets. Not only that, they did so in secret. The journalists had done nothing wrong. They broke no laws. And yet in an effort to root out leaks within the government, as well as who knows what else, the DOJ targeted the records of journalists from The New York Times, The Washington Post and CNN. And, I repeat, this happened in the United States of America, where the very First Amendment of the Constitution includes the freedom of the press.

On Monday, CNN Pentagon reporter Barbara Starr wrote that the time was finally right “to speak out on the Trump administration’s months-long efforts to secretly gain access to tens of thousands of my 2017 work and personal emails and my work and personal phone records.” As Starr pointed out, she was not the subject of an investigation, and there was no suggestion that she had done anything wrong. The same goes for the other reporters targeted.

Starr said she had no idea what the Trump administration was looking for. Biden said reporters’ records will no longer be seized in his administration, and new policies will be put in place. The New York Times’ Charlie Savage wrote, “In testimony last week, (Attorney General Merrick) Garland said the new policy will be ‘the most protective of journalists’ ability to do their jobs in history.’ But many details remain unresolved, including how broadly the new protections will apply and whether he will implement it via a method that is easy or difficult for a future administration to roll back.”

Or, as Starr wrote, “Unless new protections are codified, this could all happen again to any journalist.” Starr added she is “genuinely horrified by what happened. … All of this is a sheer abuse of power in my view — first against CNN and myself, since our work is and should always be protected by the First Amendment. But more importantly and more significantly, it is an abuse against the free press in this country, whether you are a television network correspondent or a reporter at a small town newspaper uncovering wrongdoing.” John Demers, the head of the Justice Department’s National Security Division, announced to staff he will step down at the end of next week. Demers is a holdover from the Trump administration and was expected to step down eventually.

“But,” The New York Times’ Katie Benner wrote, “Mr. Demers’s departure also comes as Democrats and First Amendment advocates have attacked the Justice Department following revelations that prosecutors supervised by Mr. Demers seized the records of reporters from The New York Times, The Washington Post and CNN and of top House Democrats while investigating leaks of classified information.” On Monday, Garland met with leaders of the three news organizations whose journalists had their records confiscated. The meeting included New York Times publisher A.G. Sulzberger and deputy general counsel David McCraw; Washington Post publisher Fred Ryan along with executive editor Sally Buzbee and general counsel Jay Kennedy; and CNN was represented by Washington bureau chief Sam Feist and general counsel David Vigilante. Bruce D.

Brown, executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, spoke on behalf of the news organizations, adding that the meeting was “off the record.” Brown added, “We are very encouraged by what we heard inside the meeting.” Sulzberger put out a statement that said, “In today’s meeting, we sought a full accounting of what happened and requested that the Department of Justice codify that it will no longer seize journalists’ records during leak investigations.

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