Public Record Media files suit against Justice Department; seeks procedures, legal opinions about media investigations

On May 3rd, Minnesota-based open government organization Public Record Media (PRM) filed suit in federal court, seeking access to U.S. Justice Department (DOJ)  records requested under a 2017 Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request.

PRM’s FOIA request seeks a variety of records about legal tools and techniques used to obtain information from members of the media.  The request also seeks memoranda and correspondence related to the potential use of the Espionage Act to prosecute journalists.

PRM’s request covers a date range that includes two presidential administrations – those of presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump.  Under President Obama, DOJ undertook several media leak investigations in which the agency sought information from members of the press – including reporters for Fox News and the New York Times.  In the case of correspondent James Rosen, the FBI referred to Rosen as a potential criminal “co-conspirator” in a search warrant affidavit – sparking criticism that resulted in a 2013 review of DOJ investigative procedures.  PRM’s request seeks documents about the policy measures that resulted from this review.

Several months after the inauguration of President Trump, Attorney General Jeff Sessions publicly stated that he had directed the National Security Division of DOJ to “prioritize cases involving unauthorized disclosures” and that his agency “was reviewing policies that impact leak investigations.”  PRM is seeking correspondence and memoranda about Trump-era changes to DOJ investigative policies put in place under the previous administration.

Through its FOIA request and lawsuit, PRM is also pursuing legal memoranda related to whether DOJ believes the Espionage Act (often used to prosecute leakers) can also be used to prosecute journalists.

The complaint in PRM’s case was filed on May 3rd in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia.  PRM is represented by Jan Evans and Eric Yaffe, Gray, Plant, Mooty, Minneapolis and Washington D.C.