Attorney General Eric Holder's Secret Meetings Not So Secret

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    (CNN) — Attorney General Eric Holder’s off-the-record meetings with the news media on guidelines for handling investigations of leaks to journalists suddenly are not so buttoned-up.

    The Justice Department’s initial ground rules for the discussions proved so controversial many organizations declined to participate, including the Associated Press, the New York Times and CNN.

    On Thursday and Friday Holder had three sessions with different groups of news executives.

    After the last meeting on Friday with USA Today, Bloomberg and the Los Angeles Times, media representatives said the entire discussion was on-the-record, meaning the participants were not bound to keep any details secret.

    Their company lawyers also were able to come along, another departure from the earlier rules.

    “The original invitation said it was off-the-record and we were all concerned about that,” said Susan Page, USA Today’s Washington bureau chief. “We asked that it be put on the record and the ground rules were eased.”

    Earlier this week a Justice Department official said the reason for the off-the-record format was to encourage a free exchange of ideas.

    President Barack Obama directed the attorney general to review guidelines for investigations involving leaks to the media. That led to the meetings with news media representatives to hear their views.

    This follows disclosures the Justice Department obtained AP phone records after it reported classified details of a thwarted 2012 plot in Yemen to try to blow up a plane with a bomb.

    The government also obtained e-mails and phone records for a Fox journalist who allegedly received a classified report on North Korea from a former State Department contractor.

    On Friday some of the media participants said they’d had good discussions but the attorney general did not make any commitments to change guidelines governing subpoenas involving the media.

    But the news executives said Holder was responsive to their worries about an affidavit that characterized the Fox reporter as a possible co-conspirator in a national security leak.

    “He (Holder) did reiterate what the president had said, which is a reporter doing his or her job should not be criminalized,” said Susan Goldberg, executive editor of Bloomberg.

    “Using the term ‘co-conspirator’ is what raised a lot of red flags for people and he did see that.”

    Holder is expected to hold more meeting with the media in coming days.

    Obama asked the attorney general to report on the results of his review of media guidelines by July 12.

    Thursday’s meetings included executives of the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal and the Daily News.

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