Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. is scheduled on Thursday to begin a series of meetings with top news executives as part of an ongoing review of how federal authorities investigate reporters. The meetings are part of an effort to quell concerns about the Justice Department investigations into journalists revealing sensitive government information.
The meetings come as President Obama has ordered a review of the department’s guidelines regarding reporters after federal prosecutors said they obtained the telephone records of several Associated Press reporters as part of an investigation of a national security leak and targeted a Fox News reporter as part of a separate probe.
The first round of meetings with news executives will include the Washington bureau chiefs for several national news organizations, department officials said Wednesday. Subsequent meetings will include “a diverse and representative group of news media organizations,” including print, news wire, radio and television outlets, representatives from news and trade associations, and First Amendment lawyers.
Martin Baron, the executive editor of The Washington Post, said he has been invited to attend a meeting with Holder on Thursday and will attend.
The New York Times and the Associated Press said their executives will not attend the meeting if it is off the record.
New York Times Executive Editor Jill Abramson said in a statement: “It isn’t appropriate for us to attend an off the record meeting with the attorney general. Our Washington bureau is aggressively covering the department’s handling of leak investigations at this time.”
AP media relations manager Erin Madigan White said that if the session is not on the record, the news cooperative will offer its views in an open letter on how Justice Department regulations should be updated, the AP reported.
The meetings come as Holder is facing fresh inquiries by the House Judiciary Committee regarding statements he made in a May 15 hearing.
In the hearing, Holder was asked why prosecutors had obtained the telephone records of AP reporters and was asked about the use of the Espionage Act to prosecute journalists.
In response, Holder said that prosecutions against reporters usually do not succeed and that he had never been personally involved in the potential prosecution of a journalist who disclosed sensitive material.
“That is not something that I have ever been involved in or would think would be a wise policy,” Holder told the panel.
Days later, The Post first reported details of the case involving Fox News’ chief Washington correspondent, James Rosen. As part of a probe into possible leaks of classified information about North Korea in 2009, investigators obtained Rosen’s telephone and e-mail records and his security access records at the State Department. Law enforcement officials also characterized Rosen as a possible “co-conspirator” for allegedly soliciting classified information from former State Department arms expert Stephen Jin-Woo Kim.
The Justice Department confirmed subsequent news reports that Holder was personally involved in signing off on the Rosen warrant.
In a letter, Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) and Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-Wis.), who chairs a subcommittee on crime and terrorism, expressed “great concern” with Holder’s testimony and asked him to clarify whether the Justice Department ever planned to prosecute Rosen under the Espionage Act; to explain his personal involvement in approving the search warrants for Rosen; and to clarify why he said under oath that he had never been involved in the potential prosecution of journalists.
The committee asked Holder to respond by next Wednesday.
The inquiry comes almost a year after the GOP-controlled House voted to hold Holder in contempt of Congress after he withheld documents that Republican lawmakers demanded as part of an investigation into a flawed gunrunning operation known as “Fast and Furious.”
In a statement, the Justice Department said it looked forward to describing its policies on investigating reporters “and establishing that the Attorney General’s testimony concerning the potential prosecution of the press was consistent with the underlying facts” of the Rosen case and the prosecution of Kim.