Journalists may be relieved — for now — that the Biden administration is changing the Justice Department's policy that allowed prosecutors to tap reporters' phones to root out leakers. But media members remain angry that it happened in the first place and have no guarantees that a future president (or the current one) will maintain those policies going forward.
"The US attorney's office in DC has a history of trampling on the First Amendment," New York Times reporter Adam Goldman said on CNN's "Reliable Sources" Sunday. "They have a history of treating the media like drug gangs ... seeking process to get phone logs in emails to root out information. It's preposterous."
Goldman, from whom prosecutors secretly obtained phone records, said he was disappointed to learn that the Justice Department allowed his records to be collected but was not surprised that it had.
Biden's Justice Department on Saturday said it will no longer seize reporters' records in leak investigations. The department under the Trump and Biden administrations had sought to obtain the email logs of four New York Times reporters, the Times reported this weekend. The disclosure was the latest in a series of revelations about the Justice Department secretly obtaining records from journalists, including CNN's Barbara Starr, as well as reporters from The Washington Post and other news organizations.
Goldman said his phone records had been similarly collected during the Obama administration, which promised to change its policies. The rules are too easily changed from administration to administration, Goldman argued, saying a law should be codified to prevent this sort of occurrence in the future.
"They vowed to change the guidelines to make them stricter because of what these prosecutors in the US attorney's office in DC had in fact done — and they turn around and they did it again!" Goldman said. "And there are no consequences at all. There should be teeth to these guidelines, it should be codified. There needs to be enforcement action so when prosecutors take these outrageous steps they're held accountable. And they're not."
Spying on journalists "is an affront to the First Amendment," CNN Chief Media Correspondent Brian Stelter said Sunday, who applauded the Biden administration's new policy. But CNN Chief White House Correspondent Kaitlan Collins agreed with Goldman that the Justice Department could easily revert back to it's old ways.
"Just because they change their policy doesn't mean it will be the policy going forward," she noted.
Although no reporters want their phone records searched, Dan Abrams, founder of Mediaite, noted that the administration could have legitimate reasons for doing so. He suggested the Wikileaks investigation, where national security could be threatened, was potentially one example where prosecutors could be justified in obtaining journalists' phone records.
"The standard ought to be really high," Abrams said, in a caveat. "The lack of transparency is, in my opinion, indefensible."