Deputy Attorney General Walks Back Attorney General's Threat To Journalists

from the house-divided-against-itself--FOUR-MORE-YEARS!-FOUR-MORE-YEARS! dept

Because this administration rarely seems to agree with itself, another recent pronouncement is being rolled back by someone within the same agency that made statements to the opposite effect only days earlier. Let me explain:

On Friday, Jeff Sessions held a press briefing on national security leaks, stating the DOJ was aggressively pursuing several leak investigations. That these investigations would most likely discourage actual whistleblowers was assumed, but not stated. Sessions didn’t directly state he was rolling back previous DOJ policy to start targeting journalists who published leaked documents, but he did say this:

I have listened to career investigators and prosecutors about how to most successfully investigate and prosecute these matters. At their suggestion, one of the things we are doing is reviewing policies affecting media subpoenas. We respect the important role that the press plays and will give them respect, but it is not unlimited. They cannot place lives at risk with impunity. We must balance their role with protecting our national security and the lives of those who serve in our intelligence community, the armed forces, and all law abiding Americans.

This appeared to indicate the DOJ was taking the gloves off and would be going after journalists who refused to reveal their sources. Sessions refused to answer a direct question about the issue before ending the press conference, echoing his non-answer on the same subject during his confirmation hearing.

Two days later, the deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, has walked back some of what was implied during Friday’s press briefing.

Speaking to Fox News Sunday, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein emphasized that the department’s renewed effort to prosecute leaks of classified information was not aimed at the news media.

“We’re after the leakers, not the journalists,” he said. “We don’t prosecute journalists for doing their jobs.“

It’s only a partial rollback. Rosenstein wouldn’t 100% rule out journalists being charged with crimes if the publication of documents was somehow criminal. (Not sure how often that would actually be the case, but the DOJ has a pretty vivid imagination sometimes.) But it sounds like the DOJ isn’t going to start pushing for contempt charges if journalists refuse to turn over info when subpoenaed.

Of course, this could all change again in the next few days. The Trump Administration has been nothing if not schizophrenic, with officials offering contradictory statements and the president’s own tweets/statements routinely refuted by department heads, cabinet members, and the government’s lawyers.

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Comments on “Deputy Attorney General Walks Back Attorney General's Threat To Journalists”

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20 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

National Security

This term has become a worldwide joke. Only it’s not funny. Every gov’t in the world is using this lame, manufactured excuse to clamp down on things they despise. Yesterday I just got a message from someone on a social network that was very dear to me a year ago, then she disappeared. As it turns out, her gov’t banned social networks for national security reasons. This is so fucked up.

Annonimous says:

Please don't insult schizophrenics

“The Trump Administration has been nothing if not schizophrenic, with officials offering contradictory statements and the president’s own tweets/statements routinely refuted by department heads, cabinet members, and the government’s lawyers.”

What exactly did schizophrenics do to you Tim that you would think so little of them to compare them to this administration?

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Please don't insult schizophrenics

The word has multiple definitions, not all of them relating to mental illness, e.g.:

http://www.dictionary.com/browse/schizophrenic

“2. of or relating to conflicting or inconsistent elements; characterized by unusual disparity:
It wavers from comedy to thriller to docudrama—a totally schizophrenic plot!”

I’ll agree that most people would be offended by being associated with this particular administration, but the use of language in this case is valid.

Machin Shin says:

“We must balance their role with protecting our national security and the lives of those who serve in our intelligence community, the armed forces, and all law abiding Americans.”

This mentality is a big problem. You see, freedom of the press is not really that big a deal when governments are behaving themselves. When they are off the rails as our government seems to be now though…… Yeah, to those in government the free press might be a threat to “national security”.

That is by design. The press is supposed to serve the people, not those in power. As a result, when those in power are no longer working for the regular people it starts to look like the press is a bad guy.

orbitalinsertion (profile) says:

Re: Re:

We must balance their role with protecting our national security and the lives of those who serve in our intelligence community, the armed forces, and all law abiding Americans.

This. Yes, the problem seems to be what they think is balanced. Only they keep shifting the point of the fulcrum to keep the balance pan on their end from sinking to the center of the earth.

It’s sort of like what passes for "compromise" anymore, where a compromised issue is continually revisited for more compromise in one direction.

Anonymous Coward says:

actions versus words

…watch what they do, not what they say

of course we have a long history of DOJ corruption to ponder, dating back to 1870 when DOJ was created under the notoriously corrupt US Grant Administration. The Attorney General has always been a highly political position, serving the interests of the President not the public.

Anybody remember Attorney General John Mitchell going to prison for Watergate?

Anonymous Coward says:

Not much of a walkback

Sessions was talking about how aggressively media subpoenas would be used to hunt down leakers. Rosenstein said: “We don’t prosecute journalists for doing their jobs.“ Issuing a subpoena and later trying to hold the recipient on contempt for non-compliance technically aren’t prosecution, so Rosenstein’s claim doesn’t actually walk back Sessions’ position that journalists are expected to help the government find "dangerous" leakers. I read Rosenstein’s statement to be little more than an assurance that the government won’t prosecute journalists for publishing the information; since the government has generally been unsuccessful at getting convictions for such publications anyway, this is a very easy offer for him to make and uphold.

Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Not much of a walkback

But they have been known to jail journalists for failing to name their sources, without trial under the ruse of ‘contempt of court’. That ‘contempt’ comes down to a judge, with questionable understanding of 1st Amendment laws, claims the journalist contemptible for refusing their illegal order to reveal sources.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Not much of a walkback

That is exactly grandparent’s point: jailing journalists under "contempt of court" is not prosecution, so the claim that "We don’t prosecute journalists for doing their jobs.“ is not renouncing use of contempt-of-court as a coercive measure to identify sources. Rather, it renounces a tactic that was rarely used and rarely successful: prosecuting the journalist for reporting the information. Rosenstein’s statement makes no promise that they will not continue trying to penalize journalists for failing to adequately assist in the hunt for the leakers.

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