AG Garland Bars Prosecutors From Seizing Journalists’ Records, Won’t Be Prosecuting Trump Officials Over Census
Attorney General Merrick Garland formally prohibited federal prosecutors from seizing the records of journalists in leak investigations on Monday, with limited exceptions, reversing years of department policy.
The new policy largely codifies the commitment Garland made in June when he said the Justice Department would abandon the practice of seizing reporters’ records in leak investigations. It aims to resolve a politically thorny issue that has long vexed Justice Department prosecutors trying to weigh the media’s First Amendment rights against the government’s desire to protect classified information.
But the memo makes clear that federal prosecutors can, in some cases, seize journalists’ records, including if the reporters are suspected of working for agents of a foreign power or terrorist organizations. There is also an exception for situations with imminent risks, like kidnappings or crimes against children.
Garland was moved to act following an outcry over revelations that the department during the Trump administration had obtained records belonging to journalists at The Washington Post, CNN, and The New York Times as part of investigations into who had disclosed government secrets related to the Russia investigation and other national security matters. Others whose records were obtained were members of Congress and their staffers and former White House counsel Don McGahn.
Christopher Wray and Merrick Garland are DISASTERS for the rule of law.
One is likely compromised and the other is covering his six.
— Pam Keith, Esq. (@PamKeithFL) July 19, 2021
Garland’s announcement came after President Joe Biden said he would not allow the Justice Department to seize journalists’ phone records and emails, calling the practice “wrong.” Since then, Garland and other senior Justice Department staffers have met with representatives of news media organizations, with both sides agreeing on the need for new department policies. Garland has also said he would support federal legislation to add additional protections for journalists.
Merrick Garland’s job is to uphold the rule of law. He cannot do that without prosecuting Donald Trump, the greatest criminal in the history of America.
— Jason Overstreet (@JasonOverstreet) July 19, 2021
While that’s a good move, Garland was also receiving heavy criticism Monday for the DOJ’s decision to not prosecute former Commerce Department Secretary Wilbur Ross after an inspector general confirmed he and others provided false testimony regarding the origins of the proposed citizenship question on the 2020 census. The investigators did not make their report public, citing Privacy Act concerns, but said in a letter to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., that Ross and other officials played a “substantive role” in proposing the addition of the citizenship question to the census. The proposal caused significant controversy as critics said it would deter non-citizens from participating in the count at all and it was eventually struck down by the Supreme Court.
NEW: Chair @RepMaloney issued this statement after a @CommerceGov IG report found that former Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross misled Congress regarding the origins and purpose of the Trump Administration’s campaign to add a citizenship question to the #2020census:
— Oversight Committee (@OversightDems) July 19, 2021