Carrie Johnson

Carrie Johnson is a Justice Correspondent for the Washington Desk.

She covers a wide variety of stories about justice issues, law enforcement and legal affairs for NPR's flagship programs Morning Edition and All Things Considered, as well as the Newscasts and NPR.org.

While in this role, Johnson has chronicled major challenges to the landmark voting rights law, a botched law enforcement operation targeting gun traffickers along the Southwest border, and the Obama administration's deadly drone program for suspected terrorists overseas.

Prior to coming to NPR in 2010, Johnson worked at the Washington Post for 10 years, where she closely observed the FBI, the Justice Department and criminal trials of the former leaders of Enron, HealthSouth and Tyco. Earlier in her career, she wrote about courts for the weekly publication Legal Times.

Outside of her role at NPR, Johnson regularly moderates or appears on legal panels for the American Bar Association, the American Constitution Society, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, and others. She's talked about her work on CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, PBS, and other outlets.

Her work has been honored with awards from the Society for Professional Journalists and the Society of American Business Editors and Writers. She has been a finalist for the Loeb award for financial journalism and for the Pulitzer Prize in breaking news for team coverage of the massacre at Fort Hood, Texas.

Johnson is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Benedictine University in Illinois.

What does it mean when lawmakers as different as Colorado Democratic Senator Mark Udall and New York Republican Rep. Peter King offer praise for the president's long-awaited speech on surveillance reforms?

Mostly that resolution to the biggest controversies after leaks by NSA contractor Edward Snowden has been put off — or pushed to working groups in the executive branch and the lawmakers themselves.

Still, the president's NSA reforms speech Friday offered a revealing look into the nation's phone data collection program and the direction of the surveillance policy debate.

FBI Director Jim Comey says he's "confused" by reports that characterize NSA contractor Edward Snowden as a "whistleblower" or a "hero" because, he says, all three branches of America's government have approved the bulk collection of U.S. phone records, one of the most important revelations in Snowden's cascade of leaks.

"I see the government operating the way the founders intended," Comey said, "so I have trouble applying the whistleblower label to someone who basically disagrees with the way our government is structured and operates."

More than 40 years ago, on the evening of March 8, 1971, a group of burglars carried out an audacious plan. They pried open the door of an FBI office in Pennsylvania and stole files about the bureau's surveillance of anti-war groups and civil rights organizations.

Hundreds of agents tried to identify the culprits, but the crime went unsolved. Until now.

For more than a year, the Senate Intelligence Committee and the CIA have been engaged in a tug of war over the release of the so-called torture report.

Chairman Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat from California, says the $40 million, 6,000-page report demonstrates that CIA treatment of detainees was all but useless in terms of gathering actionable intelligence.

For its part, the CIA says the classified committee report contains significant errors and that no one at the agency was interviewed by Senate investigators.

A federal judge in Washington says the National Security Agency's program for bulk phone record collection violates Americans' reasonable expectation of privacy.

The ruling (pdf), however, has been stayed pending a likely appeal.

Judge Richard Leon says the sweeping NSA collection of U.S. phone metadata constitutes an unreasonable search or seizure under the Fourth Amendment.

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A new report says the Justice Department regularly coerces defendants in federal drug cases to plead guilty by threatening them with steep prison sentences or stacking charges to increase their time behind bars.

And for the first time, the study by Human Rights Watch finds that defendants who take their fate to a judge or jury face prison sentences on average 11 years longer than those who plead guilty.

President Obama has made it a priority to choose federal judges who are diverse in terms of race or gender. But for the most part, he's avoided controversy for those lifetime appointments.

That's why the nomination of a Missouri lawyer named Ronnie White has raised the eyebrows of experts who've been around Washington for a while. Old hands remember that White was rejected for a federal judgeship back in 1999 after a party line vote by Senate Republicans.

Now, in what experts say could be an unprecedented step, he's getting another chance.

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OK. So federal judges, in secret, have blasted the National Security Agency for years, for violating rules governing U.S. surveillance programs. Then the judges have gone ahead and approved those programs anyway. We know this because of leaks by NSA contractor Edward Snowden, and from documents released by the government. They have revealed new information about how the secret court works. NPR's Carrie Johnson has this report on whether it is possible for the court to control the NSA.

For the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives, nothing seems to come easy.

The agency runs at a fraction of the size of its much larger law enforcement counterparts. Under pressure from gun rights groups, it operated without a Senate-confirmed leader for seven years. And its new leader, B. Todd Jones, only narrowly averted a congressional roadblock to win confirmation this summer after serving more than two years as an interim leader.

The case against a Somali-born U.S. citizen convicted in a foiled bombing plot was built partly on secret information "obtained or derived" from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, the Justice Department has acknowledged.

Technology helps police solve crimes every day. But some innovations can also present new public safety concerns — and such is the case with guns built using 3-D printers.

It has been four months since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a law that defined marriage as between a man and a woman. The ruling paved the way for thousands of same-sex married couples to receive federal benefits, and a special group of government lawyers has been working to make that happen.

The Justice Department is wrestling with how to disclose to criminal defendants that some evidence against them may have come from a secret electronic surveillance program.

A senior government official told NPR that prosecutors have identified a criminal case in which they will soon tell defense lawyers that they used secret intercepts to help build the prosecution.

The decision to share the fruits of electronic monitoring under section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act has been the source of an internal debate within the department for weeks.

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Prominent members of the legal community are pressuring the Obama administration to do more to ensure that poor criminal defendants have access to a lawyer, a situation that Attorney General Eric Holder has already likened to a national crisis.

(This post was updated at 5 p.m.)

The Justice Department is suing North Carolina over that state's restrictive new voting law. The lawsuit takes aim at provisions that limit early voting periods and require a government photo ID as an illegal form of discrimination against minorities at the ballot box.

For a man who spent the bulk of his career as a public defender, Robert Listenbee's new role walking around the halls of the U.S. Justice Department may not be the most comfortable fit.

But Listenbee, who became administrator of the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention earlier this year, says his transition has been smooth. And besides, he says, he couldn't resist the "extraordinary opportunity."

New FBI Director Jim Comey said the man who went on a rampage at the Washington Navy Yard on Monday was "wandering around looking for people to shoot" and had no apparent rhyme or reason for killing 12 people.

In his first remarks to reporters since taking office this month, Comey said the gunman, Aaron Alexis, ran out of ammunition for his legally purchased, sawed-off shotgun, exhausting a supply in his cargo pants pocket, and then began using a Beretta wrestled from a guard he had shot.

In his first full week on the job, new FBI Director Jim Comey is already expressing "intense concern" about budget cuts hitting the bureau as part of sequestration.

Comey used his first visits to FBI field offices in Virginia and New York, where he once served as a federal prosecutor, to sound an alarm about the ability to fulfill the agency's mission in a time of belt tightening.

All over the country, lawyers who defend poor people in criminal cases have been sharing their stories about painful budget cuts. Some federal public defenders have shut their doors to new clients after big layoffs. And in many states, the public defense system has operated in crisis for years.

But an unprecedented recent court filing from the Justice Department has cheered the typically overburdened attorneys who represent the poor and could have dramatic implications for the representation of indigent defendants.

The Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee says he's done waiting for answers about how the Justice Department will handle marijuana offenses in states that have legalized small amounts of the drug.

In a case closely watched by the intelligence community and the media, the Justice Department urged a federal appeals court on Monday to leave in place a court ruling that gives reporters little protection from testifying against their sources in criminal prosecutions.

For a man at the center of so many critical government actions, with a portfolio that includes preventing terrorist strikes and cyberattacks, FBI Director Robert Mueller has mostly avoided the limelight since he joined the bureau just a week before Sept. 11, 2001.

As his friend and former CIA Director George Tenet says, Mueller represents a different type.

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Army Private Bradley Manning was sentenced this morning to 35 years in a military prison. The intelligence analyst shared hundreds of thousands of documents with the website WikiLeaks in what prosecutors call the biggest leak of classified information in U.S. history. The 25-year-old Manning stood at attention as his sentence was handed down in a courtroom in Fort Meade, Maryland.

Sit down with the attorney general to ask him about his priorities, as NPR did earlier this year, and he'll talk about voting rights and national security. But if you listen a bit longer, Eric Holder gets to this: "I think there are too many people in jail for too long, and for not necessarily good reasons."

This is the nation's top law enforcement officer calling for a sea change in the criminal justice system. And he's not alone.

Hours before Attorney General Eric Holder announced he would seek new federal powers to protect minority voters in the state of Texas, the country's top law enforcement officer mingled at a Washington event about a topic that hit close to home.

A federal judge considering a constitutional challenge to drone strikes that killed three U.S. citizens in Yemen says she's "troubled" by the idea that the courts have no role to play in what's essentially a political dispute.

Over nearly two hours of arguments in her standing-room-only Washington, D.C. courtroom, Judge Rosemary Collyer repeatedly pressed the Obama administration about its claim to a broad right to use lethal force against Americans engaged in conflict overseas, demanding more than once that government lawyers put a "fence" around their position.

A lawyer for New York Times reporter James Risen is citing new Justice Department guidelines about when to subpoena journalists to support his argument that Risen is covered by a common-law reporter's privilege and need not testify about a former CIA agent who allegedly served as his source.

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Attorney General Eric Holder says it is time to take a hard look at so-called Stand Your Ground laws. These are laws that allow people to use deadly force to defend themselves, if they believe they're under attack. Holder delivered that call to action yesterday in a speech to the NAACP in Orlando, Fla., a short distance away from where unarmed, black teen Trayvon Martin was shot and killed last year. NPR's Carrie Johnson reports.

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