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Holder: Journalists Won't Be Jailed For Doing Their Jobs

Attorney General Eric Holder told journalists at a meeting Tuesday (May 27) that as long as he is on the job, no journalist will go to jail for doing his or her job.

That came in a meeting between Holder, Deputy AG James Cole, and other DOJ officials, and members of the news media and the representatives to talk about recent revisions to Justice's guidelines on government information-gathering from journalists.

During the meeting, according to Justice, asked DOJ to reconsider some of the language announced in February, with a focus on the scope of newsgathering activities covered by the guidelines. Justice said it would take that input under advisement, but conceded the newspeople had made some "compelling" points.

The journalists also sought assurances about protection of journalists’ records that might be obtained through either a subpoena or search warrant, the new guidelines notwithstanding.

Holder agreed to provide a copy of a memo outlining safeguards, that he said went to federal prosecutors in February.

Holder agreed last year to hold regular meetings with the media reps following complaints over DOJ's alleged targeting of journalists and whistleblowers, in particular its subpoena of AP phone records in a whistleblower investigation and reports it had seized phone records of a Fox reporter. 

The regular meetings began in March, according to Robin Sproul, VP and Washington bureau chief for ABC News.

Journalists and their representatives attending the meeting included Bruce Brown, executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press; Kurt Wimmer, general counsel of the Newspaper Association of America; Karen Kaiser, general counsel, Associated Press; Steve Coll, Columbia School of Journalism; Jane Mayer of the New Yorker; Bill Keller from The Marshall Project; Susan Page, USA Today; Gerry Seib from the Wall Street Journal; Sproul; Ken Strickland of NBC News, and Leonard Downie from The Washington Post.

In July 2013, DOJ issued new guidelines for seeking records related to newsgathering. Those revisions included requiring notice of collection, and negotiations with news media over that collection unless that "would pose a clear and substantial threat" to the investigation. Previously, the presumption was that notice and negotiations would not occur unless DOJ determined that to do so "would not" post a substantial threat.

In essence, the change makes the default setting having to give notice to news media of data collection unless there is an affirmative showing that to do so would threaten the integrity of the investigation, risk grave harm to national security or pose an imminent risk to life and limb.

DOJ also modified search warrant policies so that journalist work product cannot be sought under the "suspect" exception unless the journalist is the focus of the criminal investigation. Holder has to approve any search warrants and court orders directed to members of the news media.