Via America’s Lawyer: U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland sets new restrictions on the DOJ’s surveillance activities against U.S. journalists. RT correspondent Brigida Santos joins Mike Papantonio to explain the Justice Department’s history of keeping tabs on members of the U.S. media, plus a list exceptions to the new rule.


*This transcript was generated by a third-party transcription software company, so please excuse any typos.

Mike Papantonio:             Attorney general Merrick Garland has set new limits for when the Department of Justice can seize reporters records and leak investigations. Brigida Santos joins me now to talk about it, you know, on it’s face Brigida, it sounds like a complete victory for journalism. I don’t know that it is. What are the new rules say? Give me a sense of what they say.

Brigida Santos:                   Under the new rules, when trying to uncover confidential sources, the DOJ is now prohibited from seizing information from people in the news media who are acting within the scope of their news gathering activities. Now, of course, there are exceptions to the new rules and there are many. Now the DOJ can still seize a reporter’s records if the reporter is suspected of working for agents of a foreign power or terrorist organization, if they’re under investigation for unrelated activities, or if they obtained their information illegally. Exceptions may also apply of seizing a reporter’s records is necessary to prevent imminent risk of death or serious bodily harm. And there are a couple other caveats as well.

Mike Papantonio:             Well, you know, having gone to journalism school, University of Florida and studied the same kind of guidelines, maybe, you know, long time ago, decades ago, this is in a sense it’s fairly illusory. I mean, if you really think about it, there’s all kinds of ways to get in there. I mean, if you’re working for a foreign country and you’re a journalist for country of China and they say, well, he’s working for China, he’s reporting for China. Let’s take a look. Even though there may not be anything wrong. So I’m wondering how, how our press freedom groups and journalists reacting to this news? Is it like we’ve won because if, if that’s it, they’re wrong.

Brigida Santos:                   Press freedom groups support the new regulations. Now in a statement, the executive director of the reporters committee for freedom of the press says, quote, the attorney general has taken a necessary and momentous step to protect press freedom at a critical time. This historic new policy will ensure that journalists can inform the public without fear of federal government intrusion into their relationships with confidential sources. But journalists, James Risen of the Intercept who has personally been targeted in the US government’s crackdown on journalists and whistleblowers says, not so fast. He points to similar rule revisions in the past and how loopholes continued to allow the DOJ to spy on journalists. Risen says it’s simply too early to sing the praises of Garland’s new rules because federal prosecutors are capable of finding new ways to undercut press freedoms, as you just mentioned.

Mike Papantonio:             Yeah, I totally agree with that. This is a feel good kind of move. I mean, you know, Merrick Garland does something. This is totally feel good. There’s no way that you can look at those rules and say, we can’t squeeze in there somewhere. They’re going to do it. And there, you know what, there’s nobody that’s even going to ask them to, how, how, how did you responsibly do that? There’s nobody to answer. And so, you know, it, it’s just completely illusory. How has the DOJ previously targeted journalists? I mean, what, what’s the difference?

Brigida Santos:                   Garland’s new guidelines come in response to the DOJ’s collection of email and phone records of at least five reporters under the Trump administration. But this isn’t a new practice. Back in 2013, the DOJ also secretly seized phone records of Associated Press editors and reporters under the Obama administration. Then attorney general, Eric Holder also responded by revising previous rules for handling leak investigations. So history is essentially repeating itself and the verdict is out on whether the latest rules are going to be any better at protecting the free press.

Mike Papantonio:             Yeah. I remember the Eric Holder announcement like he had really accomplished something. Like, we really opened it up for journalists nowadays. It was ridiculous. As you pointed out, after that, we had five or six journalists that were targeted by the Holder administration. So this doesn’t mean anything. I hate to see the, I hate to see the media all jazzed up like this like this is some big victory. We’ll follow it as it goes on this year and we’ll see how many victories the journalists really have in this new, this new proclamation by Merrick Garland. Thank you for joining me. Okay.

Mike Papantonio is an American attorney and television and radio talk show host. He is past president of The National Trial Lawyers, the most prestigious trial lawyer association in America; and is one of the few living attorneys inducted into the Trial Lawyer Hall of Fame. He hosts the international television show "America's Lawyer"; and co-hosts Ring of Fire Radio, a nationally syndicated weekly radio program, with Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. and Sam Seder.