The Justice Department on Monday issued a formal policy that restricts the ability of federal prosecutors to obtain the records of reporters, a policy shift that followed intense lobbying by free press advocates and media organizations outraged by the Trump administration’s efforts to obtain such data.
In a memorandum released Monday morning, Atty. Gen. Merrick Garland said federal prosecutors would no longer use grand jury subpoenas or any other “compulsory legal process” to obtain information from reporters acting within the scope of their jobs. The rules come with a few exceptions — prosecutors may seek such information if reporters are the target of an investigation, if they work for a foreign power or terror group, or if there is an imminent risk of death or injury.
“The goal is to protect members of the news media in a manner that will be enduring,” Garland wrote in the memorandum, adding that he has instructed the deputy attorney general to develop regulations governing how prosecutors handle such investigations.
Garland took the action in the wake of disclosures in recent months by the New York Times, Washington Post and CNN that federal prosecutors had secretly sought email and phone records while hunting for government officials who might have leaked classified information. Prosecutors were seeking how reporters learned details about the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and other sensitive matters.