Justice Dept. discloses info on news media subpoenas

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Former Attorney General Eric Holder last year authorized three subpoenas or search warrant applications seeking information from members of the news media, the Justice Department disclosed Friday in its first annual report of cases in which prosecutors have requested information from journalists.

The four-page report was part of a pledge Holder made last year to release such information annually as the Justice Department worked to redo its guidelines for issuing subpoenas to journalists.

Though much of the information in the document was already widely known, its release represents an effort by the department to be more open about its interactions with the media. The department was widely criticized after seizing telephone records from Associated Press reporters and editors during a national security leak investigation. That episode helped give rise to new guidelines for obtaining records from reporters, which the department announced earlier this year.

"Today's report is an important step in the Justice Department's ongoing efforts to promote the freedom of the press, to keep the American people informed and to improve transparency and accountability regarding media-related process," Attorney General Loretta Lynch said in a statement.

One of the subpoenas approved by Holder sought testimony from New York Times reporter James Risen in the trial of a former CIA officer accused of leaking classified government information. Risen testified at a pretrial hearing but was not called as a witness at trial.

Holder also authorized a subpoena for testimony and documents from a television news producer in the case of Khalid al-Fawwaz, who was charged in the 1998 embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania and convicted earlier this year. Federal prosecutors in New York sought information about statements al-Fawwaz had made while serving as an aide to Osama bin Laden. The journalist made clear that he would contest the subpoena, and the Justice Department ultimately did not issue it.

In addition, Holder approved a search warrant in a hacking investigation involving someone whom the Justice Department "treated as a member of the news media in an abundance of caution." The report does not identify the person but says federal investigators decided not to serve the warrant.

In two other unspecified investigations -- including a national security probe -- Holder authorized investigators to question a member of the news media. The Justice Department says that questioning was done voluntarily and without a subpoena.

The report also lists seven instances in which lower-ranking federal prosecutors authorized subpoenas or applications for a court order. One example was the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013, in which prosecutors in Massachusetts sought television news footage of the finish line.