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Attorney General Merrick Garland speaks at the Department of Justice in Washington, D.C., March 11, 2021. Photo: Kevin Dietsch/UPI/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The Justice Department will no longer secretly seize reporters' records in leak investigations, following revelations that the Trump administration obtained phone records of New York Times, Washington Post and CNN reporters.

The state of play: "Absolutely, positively it's wrong. It's simply, simply wrong. ... I will not let that happen," President Biden told CNN in May of the practice.

"Going forward, consistent with the President’s direction, this Department of Justice — in a change to its longstanding practice — will not seek compulsory legal process in leak investigations to obtain source information from members of the news media doing their jobs."
the DOJ said Saturday

On Friday night, the N.Y. Times reported that Justice put a gag order on the newspaper's executives — beginning in the Trump administration and continuing briefly under Biden — during a secret legal battle to obtain the emails of four Times reporters.

  • A letter this week "disclosing the seizure of phone records involving the Times reporters — Matt Apuzzo, Adam Goldman, Eric Lichtblau and Michael S. Schmidt — had hinted at the existence of the separate fight ... over email."

What they're saying: "[N]o one at the White House was aware of the gag order until Friday night," White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Saturday, adding: “the issuing of subpoenas for the records of reporters in leak investigations is not consistent with the President’s policy direction to the Department.”

Justice Department spokesman Anthony Coley said: “in a change to its longstanding practice [the DOJ] will not seek compulsory legal process in leak investigations to obtain source information from members of the news media doing their jobs.”

  • “The department strongly values a free press, protecting First Amendment values, and is committed to taking all appropriate steps to ensure the independence of journalists.”

Of note, via AP: The DOJ's statement did not indicate whether the department plans to continue conducting leak investigations without obtaining reporters’ records. It also did not specify who is characterized as a member of the media per the policy nor how broadly the protection would be applied.

The bottom line: "Even so, it marked a startling turnabout concerning a practice that has persisted across multiple presidential administrations," AP writes.

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Go deeper

SCOTUS temporarily halts reinstatement of Trump's "Remain-in-Mexico" program

Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito. Photo: Erin Schaff-Pool/Getty Images

The Supreme Court late Friday temporarily blocked a federal judge's order that would have reinstated a Trump-era policy requiring immigrants seeking asylum at the southern border to wait in Mexico while their applications are pending.

Driving the news: Justice Samuel Alito issued the order after the Department of Justice asked the court to suspend the lower court's order. The suspension will expire Tuesday night.

House passes $768 billion defense spending bill

Photo: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The House approved a $768 billion National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for the 2022 fiscal year in a bipartisan 316-113 vote on Thursday.

Why it matters: The annual bill, which authorizes Pentagon spending levels and guides policy for the department, would require women to register for the military draft, among other provisions.

3 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Republicans’ secret lobbying

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

The five Senate Republicans who helped negotiate and draft the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill have been privately courting their Republican colleagues to pass the measure in the House.

Why it matters: House GOP leaders are actively urging their members to oppose the bill. The senators are working to undercut that effort as Monday shapes up as a do-or-die moment for the bipartisan bill.