Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein told Fox News Sunday that journalists should not, as a rule, be concerned if they publish information obtained as a result of a leak. However, he stressed that there might be circumstances in which a prosecution was warranted.
Rosenstein said that Attorney General Jeff Sessions was very clear that the prosecutors would go “after the leakers, not the journalists [in other words] people who are committing crimes.” On Friday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions warned the press that the First Amendment did not give them immunity from prosecution if they disclosed sensitive information to the public.
“We respect the important role that the press plays. And we’ll give them respect. But it is not unlimited. They cannot place lives at risk with impunity,” he said during a press conference.
When Fox’s Chris Wallace reminded Rosenstein that President Trump had purportedly suggested prosecuting journalists if they published classified information, the deputy AG insisted that the Justice Department did not prosecute individuals who were doing their jobs.
“We look at the facts and circumstances of each case and we determine whether somebody’s committed a crime and whether it is appropriate to hold them accountable for it,” Rosenstein told Wallace.
He also emphasized that the publishing of classified information did not constitute a crime in most circumstances but that there might be cases in which a prosecution was appropriate.
“[if] a reporter was purposely violating the law, then they might be a suspect as well,” he said. However, he stressed that this was not the Justice Department’s goal and that the true objective was to prevent leaks.
The deputy AG also confirmed that the news media guidelines would be reviewed after Attorney General Eric Holder in 2015 gave journalists more protection from government intrusion than they had ever had before. Currently the attorney general must approve subpoenas and warrants to obtain reporters’ documents and sources.
“It’s possible he [Holder] got it exactly right but maybe he didn’t. We’re going to take a fresh look at that. We’ve gotten feedback from our career prosecutors and agents that some of the procedural hurdles are delaying their investigations,” he explained.
Forcing journalists to disclose who their sources are would of course be the easiest way to identify leakers. However, subpoenaing reporters to force them to state who their sources were – and jailing them if they refuse to cooperate – could easily be viewed as an attack on new outlets for publishing negative articles about the Trump administration.
Yet, subpoenaing journalists to force them to identify their sources when a leak poses a serious threat to national security should never be ruled out and both Sessions and Rosenstein made that point abundantly clear.Share