- Attorney general nominee William Barr said he could “conceive of situations” where reporters could be held in contempt and possibly even thrown behind bars as a “last resort” if they put out information harmful to the country.
- Barr’s response came after Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar put the question to him during his confirmation hearing on Tuesday.
- This comes amid reports Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein’s office has been looking into ways to revise Justice Department guidelines surrounding how prosecutors might obtain the records of journalists
Attorney general nominee William Barr during his confirmation hearing on Tuesday said he could “conceive” of situations where reporters could be held in “contempt” and potentially jailed if they put out “stuff that will hurt the country.”
Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar asked Barr, “If you’re confirmed, will the Justice Department jail reporters for doing their jobs?”
Klobuchar referenced Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist who was brutally killed by members of the Saudi government, in asking this question.
After a brief pause, Barr said he could “conceive of situations” where this might happen as a “last resort,” especially if a news organization has “run through a red flag.”
U.S. Attorney General nominee William Barr says he can "conceive of situations" where journalists would be held in contempt for "putting out stuff that will hurt the country" https://t.co/IgjNnAlyDp pic.twitter.com/an5E4TvEUm
— CBS News (@CBSNews) January 15, 2019
This comes amid reports Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein’s office has been looking into ways to revise Justice Department guidelines surrounding how prosecutors might obtain the records of journalists. This is particularly relevant in terms of journalists reporting on leaks, an issue President Donald Trump has continuously complained about.
“The so-called leaks coming out of the White House are a massive over exaggeration put out by the Fake News Media in order to make us look as bad as possible,” Trump said in a May 2018 tweet. “With that being said, leakers are traitors and cowards, and we will find out who they are!”
It’s controversial for the federal government to take actions against reporters in virtually any context and has the potential to be challenged in court as a violation of the First Amendment.
The White House’s extraordinarily antagonistic stance toward the media has been among the most incendiary aspects of Trump’s presidency. Experts at the United Nations have warned Trump that his consistent attacks on the media could lead to violence against reporters.