(CNN)The Justice Department on Saturday said it will no longer seize reporters’ records in leak investigations, a notable policy shift on the heels of disclosures that federal prosecutors aggressively pursued communication data from reporters to identify their sources.
“Going forward, consistent with the President’s direction, this Department of Justice — in a change to its longstanding practice — will not seek compulsory legal process in leak investigations to obtain source information from members of the news media doing their jobs,” Anthony Coley, the department’s director of public affairs, said in a statement.
The commitment from President Joe Biden’s Justice Department comes just a day after The New York Times reported a top lawyer for the paper had revealed that the department, under the Trump administration and then continued under the current administration, had sought to obtain the email logs of four of its reporters. The disclosure was the latest in a series of revelations about the Justice Department secretly obtaining records from journalists, including a CNN reporter, as well as reporters from The Washington Post and other news organizations.
A number of top Times executives had been informed of the effort by the Biden administration earlier this year to obtain its reporters’ emails but were bound by a gag order — preventing them from sharing the information with the newsroom and the paper’s executive editor, attorney David McCraw said, according to the Times.
McCraw on Friday shared that the Justice Department had attempted to seize email logs of the four reporters — Matt Apuzzo, Adam Goldman, Eric Lichtblau and Michael Schmidt — from Google, which manages the Times’ email system.
In a statement Saturday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said that “no one at the White House was aware of the gag order until Friday night” due to the “independence of the Justice Department in specific criminal cases.”
“While the White House does not intervene in criminal investigations, the issuing of subpoenas for the records of reporters in leak investigations is not consistent with the President’s policy direction to the Department, and the Department of Justice has reconfirmed it will not be used moving forward,” Psaki added.
While the department under Attorney General Merrick Garland has committed to ending the practice, formal guidelines at the department have not changed, meaning the practice could be reinstated under another administration.
On January 5, prosecutors with the US attorney’s office in Washington obtained a sealed court order requiring Google to secretly turn over the email log records for the four Times reporters, the Times reported Friday. Google, however, resisted and demanded that the Times be notified of the government’s attempts to seize records, the Times reported.
According to the Times, the Justice Department continued pursuing the request for email logs after the Biden administration took over.
The prosecutors in early March asked a judge to allow informing McCraw of the effort, but the notification arrived with a nondisclosure order barring him from speaking to others abou
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