Washington Post by Kiran Raj and Paul O’Brien
September 13, 2017
Kiran Raj was senior counsel to the deputy attorney general at the Justice Department from 2013 to 2016 and deputy general counsel of the Department of Homeland Security from 2016 to 2017. He is now a partner at O’Melveny & Myers. Paul O’Brien was deputy assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s Criminal Division from 2012 to 2016.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions recently announced that the Justice Department would review his agency’s media guidelines, reportedly looking to make it easier to obtain information from members of the media in leak investigations. This includes more aggressively going after unauthorized disclosures of classified information.
Such a move is unnecessary for successful prosecutions, and it could have long-term negative consequences on the free press.
Federal prosecutors and agents have an obligation to aggressively pursue the unlawful disclosure of classified information even if the disclosure is made to a journalist. But when the government’s interest in identifying leakers conflicts with journalists’ need to protect their sources, the government must carefully balance both its interest in delivering justice as well as the legitimate and crucial newsgathering function of the media.
Striking that delicate balance is not easy. We should know — this was the task we undertook at the Justice Department from 2013 to 2015. We led a team that, after a nearly two-year review, updated the department’s media guidelines to allow prosecutors to do their jobs effectively while simultaneously safeguarding the free press and its role in government accountability.
. . .
Sessions is well within his authority to order another review of the media guidelines, but it is difficult to see a legitimate need for additional changes. If the department does move forward with a review, any changes should include discussions with key stakeholders, including members of the news media. In any case, Sessions must work to preserve the department’s long-standing respect for freedom of the press. [READ MORE]