Attorney General Eric Holder signed off on a controversial search warrant that identified Fox News reporter James Rosen as a “possible co-conspirator” in violations of the Espionage Act and authorized seizure of his private emails, an unnamed law enforcement official has claimed.
The disclosure of the attorney general’s role came as President Barack Obama, in a major speech on his counterterrorism policy, said Holder had agreed to review Justice Department guidelines governing investigations that involve journalists.
The attorney general is usually required to approve requests to search journalists’ materials, but that rule does not extend to email records.
The information comes at the end of a week when news surfaced the Justice Department had also subpoenaed phone records from journalists at The Associated Press.
The report places Holder at the center of one of the most controversial clashes between the press and the government in recent memory.
The warrant he approved named Rosen as a “co-conspirator” in a leak investigation, causing many to warn that the Justice Department was potentially criminalizing journalism.
The warrant also approved the tracking of Rosen’s movements in and out of the State Department, as well as his communications with his source, Stephen Kim, who was accused of leaking secret information about North Korea.
The feds sought the information in connection with an investigation of Stephen Jin-Woo Kim, who was working for the State Department in 2009 when the story was published, says the NY Post.
A federal judge had ordered records containing details of the snooping unsealed in 2011, but they were not posted on the court’s online docket until The Washington Post asked for them.
On Thursday, President Obama touched on the freedom of the press during a speech in which he outlined a broad rethink in the fight against terrorism that includes scaling down drone attacks, transferring detainees from Guantanamo Bay and revisiting the 2001 congressional resolution that set the country on perpetual war footing.
“I am troubled by the possibility that leak investigations may chill the investigative journalism that holds government accountable,” Obama said. “Journalists should not be at legal risk for doing their jobs.”
Mr. Obama said he has ordered Mr. Holder to review administration policy and convene a meeting with media representatives, with the goal of making sure reporters don’t face legal troubles for doing their jobs, reports the Washington Times.
“Journalists should not be at legal risk for doing their jobs. Our focus must be on those who break the law,” Obama said.
“I have raised these issues with the attorney general, who shares my concern. So he has agreed to review existing Department of Justice guidelines governing investigations that involve reporters and will convene a group of media organizations to hear their concerns as part of that review.”
Fox News chief Roger Ailes responded to the Justice Department’s investigation on Thursday, sending a staff memo condemning the Obama administration’s choices, says the Huff Post.
“We reject the government’s efforts to criminalize the pursuit of investigative journalism and falsely characterize a Fox News reporter to a Federal judge as a “co-conspirator” in a crime,” Ailes wrote.
“I know how concerned you are because so many of you have asked me: why should the government make me afraid to use a work phone or email account to gather news or even call a friend or family member? Well, they shouldn’t have done it.”
The Justice Department is currently facing public scrutiny over its practices after it was also revealed that it has also obtained the phone records of 20 Associated Press reporters as it sought to determine who had leaked information about the CIA’s role in a foiled terror plot in Yemen, writes the Daily Mail.