Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL), nominee for Attorney General under President-election Donald Trump’s incoming administration, dodged a question posed to him during his Senate confirmation hearings on whether he would prosecute journalists for their work.
During the confirmation hearing, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) asked Sessions whether he would continue current regulations in the Justice Department that require federal prosecutors to receive approval for subpoenaing or prosecuting reporters. She probed him to pledge not to “put reporters in jail for doing their job.”
His answer was non-committal.
“Senator Klobuchar, I am not sure,” Sessions replied. “I have not studied that, those regulations. I would note that when I was the United States Attorney, we knew, everybody knew, that you could not subpoena a witness or push them to be interviewed if they’re a member of the media, without approval at high levels of the Department of Justice. That was in the 1980s. So I do believe the Department of Justice does have sensitivity to this issue.”
He expanded his answer to take a pessimistic view on journalists reporting about classified information from sources in the federal government.
“For the most part, there is a broadly recognized and proper deference to the news media,” he testified. “But you could have a situation in which media’s not the unbiased media we seen today, and they could be a mechanism through which unlawful intelligence is obtained. There are other dangers that could happen with regard to the federal government that normally doesn’t happen to the media covering murder cases in the states.”
Sessions has opposed a federal shield law in the past, which would prevent journalists from being forced to reveal their confidential sources during investigations by the federal government.
Past Attorneys General, including Loretta Lynch and Eric Holder both serving in the Obama administration, publicly pledged not to imprison journalists. The Obama administration has subpoenaed reporters to testify in cases prosecuting government employees. Members of the media refusing to comply were threatened with jail time. Although no journalists were jailed during the current administration.