Published May 24, 2013
The Justice Department acknowledged late Friday that Attorney General Eric Holder was on board with a search warrant to obtain the personal emails of a Fox News reporter, as media and civil liberties groups continued to raise concerns about the case.
Following prior reports indicating that Holder had likely signed off on the search warrant, the Justice Department acknowledged Holder's involvement and defended the decision. It insisted the call to seek these files -- in the course of an investigation into a leak allegedly made by State Department contractor Stephen Jin-Woo Kim -- was legal.
"The Department takes seriously the First Amendment right to freedom of the press," the department said in a written statement, provided late Friday at the start of the holiday weekend. "In recognition of this, the Department took great care in deciding that a search warrant was necessary in the Kim matter, vetting the decision at the highest levels of the Department, including discussions with the Attorney General.
"After extensive deliberations, and after following all applicable laws, regulations and policies, the Department sought an appropriately tailored search warrant under the Privacy Protection Act. And a federal magistrate judge made an independent finding that probable cause existed to approve the search warrant," the statement said.
The "tailored" search warrant, though, was obtained only after federal officials accused Fox News correspondent James Rosen in an affidavit of being a likely criminal "co-conspirator" under a wartime law known as the Espionage Act.
This accusation, along with the seizure of Rosen's records, prompted complaints from media organizations. President Obama directly addressed these complaints for the first time on Thursday, announcing a review of DOJ policies on investigations that involve reporters.
"I've raised these issues with the attorney general, who shares my concern," Obama said, adding that Holder would report back by July 12.
The acknowledgement, however, that Holder was involved in the search warrant decision raised additional questions about whether the attorney general's review of his own actions would be impartial.
Attorney Jesselyn Radack, who works with the Government Accountability Project and has represented accused leakers, told FoxNews.com she's not convinced by the administration's latest effort.
"I don't think there needs to be a review of the internal guidelines. ... There needs to be a review of why they weren't followed," she said, adding Holder appears to have a "conflict of interest" in the review.
But Gregg Leslie, legal defense director for the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, said his group was "encouraged to hear" the review was initiated.
He told FoxNews.com on Friday that the country still needs a national media shield law -- something the DOJ agreed with in its statement Friday.
The statement said Holder "understands the concerns that have been raised by the media and has initiated a reevaluation of existing Department policies and procedures."
A law enforcement official earlier confirmed to NBC News that Holder did approve the search. The source told NBC News that the Fox News document was approved "at the highest levels -- and I mean the highest."
Holder's involvement would distinguish this case from one in which the phone records of AP journalists were seized. In that case, Holder had already recused himself by the time the records were obtained.
More details about the Fox News case continued to trickle out Friday. The New Yorker reported that U.S. Attorney Ronald Machen fought to keep the seizure of the emails secret, voicing concern that disclosing the warrant could prevent the government from monitoring the messages.
Two judges reportedly said the Justice Department should notify Rosen, but a chief judge overturned that in late 2010.
Authorities also obtained phone records for Fox News lines, including those for a number that matched the number of Rosen's parents.