United States Attorney General Eric Holder said during an off-the-record meeting Thursday that the Department of Justice will change the way it conducts investigations of reporters amid scandals centered on Associated Press and Fox News journalists.
Several news organizations refused Mr. Holder’s invitation to attend the meeting, citing contention over the Justice Department’s plan to go over matters crucial to the press on the condition that details of the discussion aren’t published. After Thursday’s conference, though, the few attendees who accepted the invitation said that the DoJ agreed to let some details emerge.
"Justice Department officials agreed that the journalists could discuss publicly in general some of the ideas that were discussed during the course of what [was] otherwise an off the record meeting,” Dylan Byers wrote for Politico. Journalists with other publications have also opened up about the event.
Despite the Justice Department’s original plans to keep the meeting’s details from going public, accounts of Thursday’s address that have surfaced in the day since reveal that Mr. Holder hoped to convince journalists that changes are on the horizon for how his office conducts probes into journalists.
The Associated Press revealed earlier this month that the Justice Department subpoenaed two months’ worth of phone records for lines linked to roughly 100 journalists. Soon after, it was acknowledged that the personal emails of Fox News reporter James Rosen were also requested by the Justice Department. In both instances, the government is investigating the source of separate leaked intelligence that could have proved to be national security risks.
In the AP case, the news service said it was likely targeted by Holder because of a 2012 article that blew the cover on the Central Intelligence Agency’s successful thwarting of a terrorist attack. The AP said they did not publish its story until meeting with both the CIA and the White House and was informed that disclosing the details would not jeopardize national security. Holder stands by the probe, but during this week’s meeting said things would be conducted differently in the future.
According to Byers, Holder and Deputy Attorney General James Cole “said they are reaching out to editors and counsels for news organizations about how to strike what they called ‘the balance’ between protecting the flow of information and journalists’ ability to do our jobs and what they described as national security damage.”
“[Holder and aides] completely endorsed the president’s statement that reporters should not be at legal risk for doing their job. They acknowledged the need for changes in their own guidelines and the need to have a more rigorous internal review,” Martin Baron added in the Washington Post.
But even if the DoJ acknowledged those changes, eyewitnesses say it’s not certain when or how adjustments will be implemented. While most attendees say that Holder and Cole seemed understanding of their grievances, few walked away with feeling fulfilled about promises that have yet to be cemented.
“I didn’t come away with a precise understanding of how those guidelines might change, and I didn’t have impression they were settled in their own mind,” Byers added for a separate Politico article.
“Who knows what’s going to happen if they in fact are going to practice what they seem to preach and try to change some laws that we feel are very relevant. But I think it’s sort of an opening gambit, an opening discussion,” New York Daily News Washington bureau chief Jim Warren told CNN.
Holder will hold a separate meeting with members of the press on Friday.