(CNN) – Justice Department officials expressed a measure of regret on Thursday that the agency went as far as it did in national security leak investigations involving close scrutiny of reporters, and expressed a commitment to review its guidelines so reporters would not be at legal risk for doing their jobs.
That was a readout of a meeting on Thursday between Attorney General Eric Holder and media executives over the agency's policies, according to journalists who attended the discussion.
“We expressed our concerns that reporters felt some fear for doing their jobs, that they were concerned about using their e-mail, using their office telephone and that we need to have the freedom to do their job,” Washington Post Executive Editor Martin Baron said after the meeting concluded.
Baron called the meeting, which added a new twist to an already controversial matter, “constructive.” Another said it was a “starting point,” while a third participant said there was no certainty that any major changes would be made in the near future.
Holder sat down Thursday and will do so again Friday with print, broadcast and news wire outlets to talk about Justice Department policies as it faces criticism over how it has handled two investigations in which classified information was obtained by the Associated Press and Fox News.
In addition to Baron, Gerald Seib of the Wall Street Journal and Jim Warren of the New York Daily News also spoke to reporters.
Some organizations, including CNN, Fox News, The New York Times, the Associated Press and Reuters, refused to attend, citing ground rules that the meeting would be “off the record” in the midst of ongoing news stories about leaks.
Asked why he decided to attend, Baron said such meet-ups are “not unusual” in Washington.
“People in the press frequently have off-the-record discussions with newsmakers. This is not unusual in any respect,” he said. “Many of the organizations that chose not to come also participate in off-the-record discussions.
“This was an opportunity for us to share our views with the people at the highest levels of the Justice Department,” he said. “So that's what we did.”
The controversies stem from leak investigations over classified information regarding North Korea reported by Fox News Reporter James Rosen and a separate investigation about a thwarted airliner bomb plot reported by the Associated Press. As part of these probes, the DOJ obtained journalists’ phone records as well as, in the case of Fox News, email records. The subpoena for the AP's phone records and the one for the Fox News reporter's personal emails were kept secret.
News organizations and many members of Congress have criticized Holder and the Obama administration for going too far in these investigations, using overly broad criteria–and secrecy–for their searches of the records.
Meeting participants spoke in general terms about the session with Holder.
Without going into specifics, Seib described it as a “starting point” and said there were “plenty of indications that (Justice Department officials) were unhappy, regretful that this got to this point.”
Warren said the conversation included talk of a “legal and statutory nature” but expressed no certitude that big changes were coming anytime soon.
“Who knows what's going to happen if they in fact are going to practice what they seem to preach and try to change some laws that we feel are very relevant,” he said. “But I think it's sort of an opening gambit, an opening discussion.”
Last week President Barack Obama said he had asked Holder to conduct a review of how the Justice Department investigates media organizations as part of its greater effort to crack down on leaks of classified national security information.
Speaking on Thursday, Obama said he was "troubled by the possibility that leak investigations may chill the investigative journalism that holds government accountable."
Holder's long-time friend Reid Weingarten, a Washington attorney, told CNN Thursday that off-the-record sessions would not be meant as a mea culpa.
"This is not about Eric Holder giving his defense. This is a policy discussion Eric has been instructed to do by the president. He was people to sit down and roll up their sleeves," Weingarten said. "This is not a charm offensive. This is substantive."
– CNN Chief Political Analyst Gloria Borger contributed to this report.
Remember...Asking the AG to review him actions and those under his command is like asking the leader of the wolfpack to review how the latest hunts turned out. The answer will be "We did everything right and enjoyed the lamb very well. Thank you for asking."
This is pathetic. By listening to Holder's testimony it is only obvious there were more subpoenas and more news organizations being moniitored. How much leeway are "news" organizations going to continue to give this administration? This stinks to high heaven.
CNN refused to attend – so what gives them the privilege to report 'hearsay'?
I believe sometimes for security reasons that it´s best the press not be given access to all
levels . Look at the way they feed off of the misery of others just to be first to report .
If you are scared then don't deal with leakers. It is against the law to further release classified information.
CNN back safely in the codpiece of the administration, nuzzling warmly.
Mr. Holder needs to resign and a special prosecutor needs to be appointed to every single action that this man has taken since day 1.
There are innocents who have been assaulted multiple agencies in our government – and they are unrepentant – that should disturb any news person... but I didn't read a darn bit of outrage here at all.... It's just business as usual at CNN.
Sorry CNN, you don't understand that this administration, more than any other in history, has destroyed the faith of the American people in her government.
None should have attended. They say it is a chance for them to share their views. That shouldn't be necessary. The Dept of Injustice should FOLLOW THE LAW but that goes against the nature of Holder and the entire Obama gang
What a joke, fox got caught in the hen house and now the fox is investigating who did it and how the hens feel....please! wake up and call for a special investigator already congress its the only way the truth is comming out.
I, for one, have absolutely no problem with the Justice department keeping a VERY close eye on whatever methods FOX news uses to get their 'tips'. I do not trust them to consider anything but their own ratings when it comes down to it. Truth, fairness, ethics and national security be damned, seems to be their motto. They're known as FAUX News for a good reason.
It's time for Holder to go.
I'm all about freedom of speech and expression, but there also has to be a need to not publish classified information at sensitive times. By "sensitive" I mean dutring an investigation for example, or by releasing something that would compromise intelligence agents (Plame, for example) or the ability to continue gathering information in an unfriendly country, North Korea, for example. When a leak such as the NK related one happens, the person leaking classified information is culpable, as is the reporter that trolls for such information then publishes it, knowing the information is classified. Contrary to what some people may think, the general public does not need to know everything, especially that data which is classified. If you disagree, that is your right, but let me ask you this ... would you want some reporter publishing launch codes, your social security number and genome because the public has the right to know? Common sense and proper discretion should be the key, not ratings ...
When Julian Assange does it, it's wrong and he should be jailed, but when a fox reporter does it, then it's okay.
Media execs tell Holder reporters need freedom to do their jobs
YOU... Don't seem to understand who WE are !!!
Are The OBAMA Cartel. You DO NOT TELL us anything.
Will TELL you.... What you are permitted to print about us.
There is no basis for believing anything reported about an "off the record" meeting.
Amazing to think that 90% of Democrats still support this administaration. It's like socialist Nazi Germany all over again. Your papers please.
Probable scenario of the "off the record meeting".
Erik Holder asked the media moguls for compassion and understanding.
He probably asked the media moguls to overlook his stupidity and arrogance, and pleaded with them to continue portraying him as a unusually competent AG, even though he isn't.
I believe Holder abused his authority, especially in regards to Rosen at Fox. I guess the charm offensive where he says he's sorry and mistakes were made, is supposed make this all ok. The Department of Justice should be above reproach, but it's not. It's a joke.
If there is a leak, and a reporter knows who it is, the govt. has a compelling interest to quickly identify who it is. The freedom of the press does not supersede national security threats. And a LEAK IS A NATIONAL SECURITY THREAT...Rosen was never charged...just had his records subpoenaed in order to identify the leak...READ PEOPLE...!!!
So basically nothing substantive was said. If that was the case, why take it off the record? If the AG wants to get back on the media's good side, do it in the light of day. The media isn't the only one with a trust issue with this government – a hefty portion of America has trust issues with this government.
Fast and Furious
AP gate (snooping on the news)
Fox gate (more snooping on the news)
WOW, Holder is involved in 3 of the 5. When are people going to wake up and demand accountibility for what our governement does? Do they not work for us?
I am not surprised by this..... the loss of freedom is a process.....little by little, in systematic way, and YES usually with complicity of the media.......I came from a country where this was done surgically..... I am sad for America. the only real beacon of what freedom is all about, and all is done in the name of security....... the left has mastered this techniques.....................
@rod: when you allow only the government to determine what is a national security issue and not the American public, you will quickly find all sorts of shenanigans that are lumped under "national security" when they are of public interest, especially when those things are politically unpopular or would make the administration look foolish. That's why the media needs the freedom from this type of overreach – we the people depend on it!
Holder has to go. I'm seriosly disappointed in my current administration. CNN, I can't find much reporting on this here and am forced to go Fox and other news to hear the full story. Cover it more comprehensively please.
If this was a republican administration this would be the lead story every day on all media channels. If I was a Democrat that was considering running in 2016 I would be all over this, the first Democrat to stand up to the president will be the front runner and be on every media outlet as a hero and champion.