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News executives protest Trump-era probe with Garland The New York Times Justice Department Trump Joe Biden The Washington Post

CNN executives The New York Times and The Washington Post met with Attorney General Merrick Garland on Monday to protest the Trump-era Justice Department’s efforts to seize journalists’ phone and email records.

After the hour-long meeting in Washington, Bruce Brown, executive director of the Journalists’ Committee on Freedom of the Press, said reporters had explained how this represented an “existential crisis” for organizations.

None of the media officials responded to questions, with Brown saying they agreed the meeting was informal. The meeting included Times and Post editors AG Sulzberger and Fred Ryan, respectively, as well as Post editor Sally Buzbee and Sam Feist, CNN’s Washington bureau chief.

The Justice Department said the group had had a “productive conversation about the need for new rules” governing prosecutors’ ability to search for these documents.

Files were searched for eight journalists from news organizations, all of whom had worked on reports in 2017 involving investigations into alleged Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. In the cases of CNN and The Times, a temporary gag order prevented media lawyers from even telling their reporters what was going on.

News organizations fear that efforts to search for documents that may reveal the sources used by journalists will prevent those officials from revealing sensitive government information in the future.

The Justice Department announced earlier this month that it would no longer secretly obtain journalists’ files during investigations into the leaks, marking a sweeping policy shift that abandons a practice that has been maligned for years by law enforcement bodies. press and press freedom groups. The announcement came after President Joe Biden pledged that he would not allow the Justice Department to continue the practice, which he described as “just, just plain bad.”

But while the Biden administration has ordered such efforts to stop, news outlets fear that without laws to prevent it, another administration might take a different approach.

“It’s about the flow of information to the public,” Brown said. “It’s about holding government accountable. And these news outlets cannot do their job effectively in that way unless they can protect confidential sources, and that was very, very clear by this group today at the meeting.

Prosecutors told executives journalists had never been the target of investigations, the department said. Officials said Garland agreed with news executives there was “a need for strong and lasting rules.”

The Democratic and Republican administrations have used subpoenas and court orders to obtain journalists’ files in an attempt to identify sources who have revealed classified information. But the practice has come under renewed scrutiny in recent weeks, as Justice Ministry officials alerted journalists from the three organizations whose phone records had been obtained in the last year of the month. Trump administration.

Barbara Starr, a CNN reporter who covers defense issues, wrote in a column that she was “really horrified” by what happened.

“The Justice Department’s secret proceedings against the free press affect everyone in the country,” she wrote. “That’s what I hope Merrick Garland gets out of this whole solemn affair.”

CNN said the Justice Department looked for logs that revealed who had conversed with Starr by email, but not necessarily what the emails said.

The Times said the Trump administration in 2020 secretly seized phone records from early 2017 for reporters Matt Apuzzo, Adam Goldman, Eric Lichtblau and Michael S. Schmidt. All of them had written about how former FBI Director James Comey conducted the election investigations.

The Justice Department had also sought to retrieve email logs from Google, which operates the Times’ email system, but Google resisted, the newspaper reported.

The Post said federal prosecutors also searched for the phone records of its reporters Ellen Nakashima and Greg Miller, and former reporter Adam Entous, between April and July 2017.


Bauder reported from New York.

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