The Slatest

Biden Vows He Won’t Let Justice Department Seize Reporters’ Records: “It’s Wrong”

President Joe Biden and President Moon Jae-in of the Republic of Korea participate in an expanded bilateral meeting in the State Dining Room of the White House on May 21, 2021.
President Joe Biden and President Moon Jae-in of the Republic of Korea participate in an expanded bilateral meeting in the State Dining Room of the White House on May 21, 2021. Pool/Getty Images

President Joe Biden said he won’t allow the Justice Department under his watch to seize phone or email records of journalists. “Absolutely, positively, it’s wrong,” he told CNN’s Kaitlan Collins after a joint news conference with Korean President Moon Jae-in. “It’s simply, simply wrong.” When asked specifically whether he would let the Justice Department seize journalists’ records, Biden was categorical: “I will not let that happen.”

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The president’s comments came a day after CNN reported that the Justice Department told its Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr that former President Donald Trump’s administration secretly sought and obtained her phone and email records covering two months in 2017. CNN President Jeff Zucker said the network “strongly condemns the secret collection of any aspect of a journalist’s correspondence, which is clearly protected by the First Amendment.” The revelation came shortly after the Washington Post reported earlier this month that three of its reporters were notified that the Justice Department under Trump secretly obtained their phone records last year.

CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer immediately celebrated Biden’s comments and qualified them as “really encouraging news.” But, as the Associated Press points out, not everyone in the White House seems to have the exact same view as Biden. Earlier in the day, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the Justice Department would use the “Holder model” when it came to seizing reporters’ records, in reference to former attorney general Eric Holder who served under President Barack Obama. Although Holder tightened up guidelines to make it more difficult for the Justice Department to seize records from reporters, he didn’t outright end the practice. Holder has been criticized for approving the seizure of phone records from reporters working with AP and Fox News.

Psaki said the Justice Department will be meeting with reporters “to hear their concerns about recent notices” and insisted Biden “is committed strongly to the rights of freedom of the press … and for standing up for the rights of journalists” but what ultimately happens “would be up to the Justice Department.”

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