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Justice Department adopts new rules after AP scandal blowback

Published time: July 12, 2013 20:35
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder.(AFP Photo / Mark Wilson)

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder.(AFP Photo / Mark Wilson)

The White House has been presented with a policy change that will provide broad new protections for journalists and their sources in the wake of two Department of Justice investigations that drew criticism over the targeting of reporters.

The White House has been presented with a policy change that will provide broad new protections for journalists and their sources in the wake of two Department of Justice investigations that drew criticism over the targeting of reporters.

Attorney General Eric Holder presented the new rules to the White House on Friday afternoon, and a Justice Department official speaking on condition of anonymity told Reuters that they will go into effect “almost immediately.”

Earlier in the day, White House spokesperson Jay Carney said the president had seen the revised policies and accepted them but refrained from commenting until the full report could be made public.

When it is released, we'll have something to say about it,” Carney said.

According to early reports, the new changes will mandate that journalists carrying out “ordinary news-gathering activities” cannot be served with a warrant involving their own investigative work unless the reporter himself is the subject of a criminal investigation.

Additionally, the Justice Department will be required to notify a news agency or journalist as soon as a subpoena is sought unless doing so would "pose a clear and substantial threat to the integrity of the investigation." Up until now, the second-ranking Justice Department must formally declare that there would be no harm done in notifying the target of a probe in order for the journalist to even find out.

The new rules also require that, regardless, a journalist under investigation must be informed within 45 days unless the attorney general specifically says it would hinder a federal probe.

The decision to implement a policy change comes weeks after it was revealed that the Justice Department under Mr. Holder sought phone records from several Associated Press employees and separately targeted a Fox News national security reporter as part of an investigation into leaked documents.

After it was revealed that the phone histories of roughly 100 AP journalists were compromised, AP President Gary Pruitt called the government’s actions “unconstitutional.”

We don’t question their right to conduct these sorts of investigations, we just think they went about it the wrong way,” Pruitt told CBS News in May. “So sweeping, so secretively, so abusively and harassingly and overbroad that it is an unconstitutional act.”

Pruitt said that when the AP found out that “thousands upon thousands” of work-related call logs were handed to the Department of Justice, the government said informing the news agency would have posed a substantial threat to their investigation into a leaked Central Intelligence Agency report. “But they have not explained why it would, and we can’t understand why it would,” said Pruitt.

The AP believed that they were targeted due to a story they did detailing how the CIA foiled an attempted terrorist attack in 2012. Pruitt said the AP heard from high officials in two parts of the government that national security issues wouldn’t be at risk if his agency published their report, at which point they did.

Shortly after the AP became aware of that investigation earlier this year, it was revealed that Fox News journalist James Rosen was targeted in a separate probe that sought to uncover information about a State Department employee believed to have leaked sensitive info.

"Journalists should not be at legal risk for doing their jobs. Our focus must be on those who break the law," Obama said during a May 23 address.

During that speech, the president ordered Attorney General Holder to provide him with possible changes to the current guidelines by July 12 — which he did this Friday with only hours to spare.




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