June 9 (UPI) -- Attorney General Merrick Garland on Wednesday reiterated the Justice Department's commitment to refrain from seizing records from reporters in leak investigations.
In testimony before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee about the agency's budget, Garland said he is creating a policy that will be announced in a memo in the coming weeks that will "distinguish between reporters doing their jobs and reporters committing crimes" in stories involving leaked documents.
"Going forward, we have adopted a policy which is the most protective of journalists' ability to do their jobs in history," he said. "We will not use compulsory process in leak investigations to require reporters to provide information about their sources when they're doing their job as reporters. That is going to be our policy."
Garland's comments came after the Justice Department alerted reporters at CNN, The Washington Post and The New York Times that their records had been seized in investigations under former President Donald Trump's administration and said on Saturday that it would change the "longstanding practice."
It also follows a ProPublica article that cited "a vast trove of Internal Revenue Service data on the tax returns of thousands of the nation's wealthiest people" showing that billionaires including Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, Tesla CEO Elon Musk and businessmen Michael Bloomberg, Carl Icahn and George Soros to show they did not pay federal income taxes in recent years.
Garland said that while he knows "nothing more" about the situation than was included in the article, responding to the leak and ensuring the privacy of Americans' tax documents is "at the top" of his list of issues to focus on following the testimony.
"This is an extremely serious matter," he said. "People are entitled obviously to the greatest privacy with respect to their tax returns."
Lawmakers also questioned Garland about the Justice Department's decision to file a brief Monday requesting to substitute itself for Trump in a defamation lawsuit by writer E. Jean Carroll regarding the former president's denial of sexual assault allegations she made against him.
"I know about the criticism," Garland said. "The job of a Justice Department in making decisions of law is not to back any administration, previous or present. Our job is to represent the American people and our job in doing so is to ensure adherence to the rule of law."
Garland went on to say that it is "not always easy to apply that rule," especially when enforcing laws put in place by previous administrations.
"Sometimes it means that we have to make a decision about the law that we would never have made and that we strongly disagree with as a matter of policy, but in every case the job of the Justice Department is to make the best judgment it can as to what the law requires," he said.