U.S. press leaders on Monday applauded Attorney General Merrick Garland for formally barring federal prosecutors from seizing the records of journalists in leak investigations, with limited exceptions, reversing years of department policy.
Lisa Nicole Matthews, president of the National Press Club, and Angela Greiling Keane, president of the National Press Club Journalism Institute, issued the following statement:
“We are grateful the attorney general has at long last squared Justice Department policy with the First Amendment. Too often in recent years, reporters’ communications records have been subpoenaed in the name of fighting leaks. The government has a right to try to protect legitimate secrets. But the public benefits in incalculable ways from an unfettered press exposing facts that government officials sometimes would prefer to keep quiet. The broad and ongoing benefit of that sunshine outweighs the government’s interest in clamping down on any particular leak. The new policy gets it right.”
According to news reports, a memo that will institute Garland’s decision bars subpoenas of a reporter’s records except in limited circumstances, including if the journalist is suspected of working for agents of a foreign power or terrorist organizations or for situations with imminent risks such as kidnappings or crimes against children.