Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. approved a search warrant identifying a Fox News reporter as a potential co-conspirator in an espionage case, NBC News reported.
The information comes at the end of a week when news surfaced the Justice Department had also subpoenaed phone records from journalists at The Associated Press.
On Thursday, President Obama touched on the freedom of the press during a speech in which he outlined a broad rethink in the fight against terrorism that includes scaling down drone attacks, transferring detainees from Guantanamo Bay and revisiting the 2001 congressional resolution that set the country on perpetual war footing.
His shift back to foreign policy comes as he faces burgeoning scandals at home over IRS scrutiny of conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status and over the AP probe.
Mr. Obama said he has ordered Mr. Holder to review administration policy and convene a meeting with media representatives, with the goal of making sure reporters don’t face legal troubles for doing their jobs.
Mr. Holder previously said he had recused himself from the AP probe.
In a statement to NBC, the Justice Department said that “[t]his review is consistent with Attorney General Holder’s long-standing belief that freedom of the press is essential to our democracy. At the same time, the attorney general believes that leaks of classified information damage our national security and must be investigated using appropriate law enforcement tools. We remain steadfast in our commitment to following all laws and regulations intended to safeguard national security as well as the First Amendment interests of the press in reporting the news and the public in receiving it.”
But the AP isn’t the only press organization that has come under target.
On Monday, news reports said the Justice Department seized phone records and emails sent to a private account of Fox News’ chief Washington correspondent, James Rosen, in an investigation into a 2009 story about U.N. sanctions and North Korea’s nuclear program.
In court filings, the department even said Mr. Rosen may have aided and abetted in a crime by trying to pry the information, which was classified, from his source.
The affidavit filed by FBI agent Reginald Reyes said there was “probable cause” to believe that Mr. Rosen, who was identified only as “the reporter,” has violated a provision in U.S. law prohibiting unauthorized disclosure of defense information. Mr. Reyes then labeled Mr. Rosen a possible “co-conspirator” in seeking access to two days’ worth of emails.
The government is prosecuting a State Department adviser, Stephen Kim, a North Korea analyst, for revealing secrets to the news organization. He is awaiting trial. No charges have been filed against Mr. Rosen.
In a letter to staffers, Fox News President Roger Ailes wrote that the network rejects the government’s effort to “criminalize the pursuit of investigative journalism and falsely characterize a Fox News reporter to a Federal judge as a ‘co-conspirator’ in a crime.”
“The administration’s attempt to intimidate Fox News and its employees will not succeed and their excuses will stand neither the test of law, the test of decency, nor the test of time,” Mr. Ailes wrote. “We will not allow a climate of press intimidation, unseen since the McCarthy era, to frighten any of us away from the truth.”
“I am proud of your tireless effort to report the news over the last 17 years,” he continued. “I stand with you, I support you and I thank you for your reporting with courageous optimism. Too many Americans fought and died to protect our unique American right of press freedom. We can’t and we won’t forget that. To be an American journalist is not only a great responsibility, but also a great honor. To be a Fox journalist is a high honor, not a high crime. Even this memo of support will cause some to demonize us and try to find irrelevant things to cause us to waver. We will not waver.”
“As Fox News employees, we sometimes are forced to stand alone, but even then when we know we are reporting what is true and what is right, we stand proud and fearless,” he concluded. “Thank you for your hard work and all your efforts.”
In the AP’s case, the Justice Department obtained records from 20 phone lines used by 100 reporters, including a line in the House of Representatives press gallery, in an attempt to find out who leaked details of a successful CIA operation in Yemen that stopped an airliner bomb plot on the one-year anniversary of the May 2, 2011, killing of Osama bin Laden.