The ruling was a victory, at least for now, for the Biden administration, which has pursued an effort to prosecute Mr. Assange begun under the Trump administration. Mr. Assange will seek to appeal the decision to Britain’s Supreme Court, according to his legal team.
The Justice Department’s decision to charge Mr. Assange under the Espionage Act in connection with obtaining and publishing secret government documents has raised novel First Amendment issues and alarmed advocates of media freedom. But because he has been fighting extradition, those questions have not been litigated and his transfer to the United States could set off a momentous constitutional battle.
The Department of Justice’s (DOJ) pledge that it will no longer secretly obtain the records of journalists has left a number of unanswered questions about the department’s handling of leak investigations initiated during the Trump era.
It’s not clear what high-ranking Biden officials knew and when as the Justice Department proceeded with cases involving reporters from three different media outlets or why the department continued to push for gag orders in two cases even after President Biden said late last month that seizure of journalist records was “simply wrong.”
The Justice Department under President Donald Trump obtained a gag order that kept top CNN executives from disclosing the government’s pursuit of reporter Barbara Starr email and other records as part of an apparent leak investigation.
According to CNN, the effort started in July of last year and was only revealed until Wednesday, when a federal judge unsealed parts of the case. CNN’s general counsel David Vigilante went on air to explain that he was unable to reveal details of the case even to Starr herself. She and reporters from The Washington Post and The New York Times were informed last month that the government had seized their records without their knowledge.
The Biden administration said on Saturday that no one at the White House had been aware that the Justice Department was seeking to seize the email data of four New York Times reporters and had obtained a gag order in March barring a handful of newspaper executives who knew about the fight from discussing it.
The Justice Department on Saturday announced that it will no longer use subpoenas or other legal methods to obtain information from journalists about their sources — a major policy shift that came just a day after the New York Times revealed that the department had prohibited the newspaper’s lawyers and executives from disclosing an effort to seize email records of four reporters.
“Going forward, consistent with the President’s direction, this Department of Justice — in a change to its long-standing practice — will not seek compulsory legal process in leak investigations to obtain source information from members of the news media doing their jobs,” Anthony Coley, the department’s top spokesman, said in a statement.