Garland to meet with news execs over Trump Justice Department leak probe

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U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland will meet with news executives Monday regarding Trump administration seizing communication records from them in leak probe.  Photo by Tom Brenner/UPI

U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland will meet with news executives Monday regarding Trump administration seizing communication records from them in leak probe.  Photo by Tom Brenner/UPI | License Photo

June 14 (UPI) -- Attorney General Merrick Garland is to meet with news executives Monday to discuss the Trump administration's seizing phone records in a leak probe.

Garland is slated to meet with leaders from CNN, the New York Times and Washington Post at 4 p.m., and the meeting is expected to last about an hour, the New York Times reported.

The news executives are to discuss with Garland the seizure of communication records from reporters at each outlet by then-President Donald Trump's Justice Department in hunt for sources in leak investigations, according to the Times.

Among the attempts, Trump's DOJ sought to obtain 2017 phone records, and in some cases email records, including communications from Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr, CNN Business reported.

A gag order was placed on CNN general counsel David Vigilante to prevent disclosure of the probe, according to the network.

President Joe Biden told CNN last month he would not allow his Justice Department to similarly seize communication records from reporters, calling it "simply, simply wrong."

CNN Washington Bureau Chief Sam Feist, who will attend the meeting Monday, told CNN's Sunday broadcast of Reliable Sources that the Biden administration's pledge not to do the same thing was not enough to address the problem.

"What we're asking the attorney general tomorrow is to try to bind future administrations," Feist said. "Don't just send a memo. Change policy."

Feist added that it was not an accident that Trump's DOJ targeted the three news media outlets.

"These are the organizations that were at the top of [Trump's] list of enemies of the American people," Feist said. "Whether Merrick Garland knows the details of how that came about, we don't know, but we're certainly going to ask."

Feist also noted that the meeting will take place one day after the 50th anniversary of the Times' publication of the Pentagon Papers in 1971.

"Our goal is to make sure that the Pentagon Papers and other stories of extraordinary public interest could be published in the future," Feist said. "It is to protect the freedom of the press now and in the future."

The Times publisher A.G. Sulzberger and Times newsroom lawyer, David McCraw, who received gag orders in related legal fights for reporters' email data that spilled over into the Biden administration, will also attend the meeting, according to the Times.

In that testimony, Garland said he is creating a policy that will be announced in a memo in coming weeks that will "distinguish between reporters doing their jobs and reporters committing crimes" in stories involving leaked documents.

The Justice Department's Inspector General opened an investigation Friday into what led federal prosecutors under the Trump administration to take House Democrats' and reporters' data.

DOJ national security chief John Demers, who oversaw Trump administration investigations that targeted Democratic lawmakers, including Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., is leaving his post within two weeks amid the probe, CNBC reported Monday.

A spokesman for Demers told CNBC he originally was expected to leave when Biden was sworn into office, but stayed several months past that upon request from the department's current leadership.

Demers has told superiors for months he planned to leave when his children's summer break began, the spokesperson added.

Garland reiterated Monday in a statement his remarks in his confirmation hearing that "political or other improper considerations must play no role in any investigative or prosecutorial decisions."

"These principles that have long been held as sacrosanct by the DOJ career workforce will be vigorously guarded on my watch, and any failure to live up to them will be met with strict accountability," his statement continued.

"There are important questions that must be resolved in connection with an effort by the department to obtain records related to members of Congress and congressional staff."

Garland added that the matter had been referred to the inspector general to conduct a "thorough and independent investigation," and he would "strengthen" policies for obtaining congressional records.

"Consistent with our commitment to the rule of law, we must ensure that full weight is accorded to separation-of-powers concerns moving forward," Garland said in the statement.

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