(CNN) — The Trump administration’s Justice Department secretly seized months of phone records from four reporters from The New York Times as part of a leak investigation, the newspaper reported Wednesday.
The Biden administration revealed to the newspaper that the Trump administration’s Justice Department had seized nearly four months of phone records in 2017 from reporters Matt Apuzzo, Adam Goldman, Eric Lichtblau and Michael Schmidt. Officials also had a court order to seize the group’s email records with no content, but no records were obtained, according to the newspaper.
The New York Times said the timing of the seized records and the reporters involved in the investigation suggest that the leak investigation involved an April 22, 2017 newspaper report on former FBI Director James Comey’s handling of different investigations during the 2016 elections.
“The seizure of journalists’ phone records profoundly undermines press freedom,” Dean Baquet, executive editor of The New York Times, told the newspaper in a statement. “It threatens to silence the sources we depend on to provide the public with essential information about what the government is doing.”
The news of the seized phone records is just the latest revelation about the Trump administration’s heavy-handed tactics toward leak investigations involving journalists.
The Department of Justice informed CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr in a May 13 letter that prosecutors had obtained her phone and email records for two months, from June 1, 2017, through June 1, 2017. July 31, 2017. The letter listed Starr’s extension numbers at the Pentagon, the CNN booth at the Pentagon, and Starr’s mobile and home phones, as well as his work and personal email accounts.
And three Washington Post reporters who covered the FBI investigation into Russia were told last month that in 2020 the Justice Department had obtained their 2017 phone records. In 2018, the Justice Department revealed that it had also obtained phone communications. and by 2017 email from reporters from BuzzFeed, Politico, and The New York Times who had written stories about Russia.
Justice Department spokesman Anthony Coley told CNN in a statement that “today, the Justice Department notified four journalists that it obtained their phone call logs and sought to obtain content-free email logs from 2017 as part of a criminal investigation into the unauthorized disclosure of classified information. The records in question were searched in 2020 under the Department’s regulations that apply to records of members of the media, and the journalists were not subjects or targets of the investigation.
He added that “members of the media have now been notified in all cases” of leak investigations that took place in 2019 and 2020 involving reporter records.
President Joe Biden told CNN last month that he would not allow his Justice Department to seize phone records or emails from reporters. After a joint press conference with South Korean President Moon Jae-in in the East Room of the White House, Biden told CNN: “We should absolutely, positively – it’s wrong, it’s just, just wrong.” , and added: “I will not allow that to happen.”
Under the regulations of the Department of Justice, the department can secretly obtain the records of journalists through a court order, without the journalists knowing. The department established revised and slightly stricter guidelines for issuing subpoenas to the media during the Obama administration in 2015, and ordered the attorney general to authorize subpoenas when they related to journalists’ news-gathering activities.
But the policy still gives the attorney general and other senior department officials wide latitude to review journalists’ communications and initially keep the matter secret.
“The level of secrecy is something that we have been very focused on for years. From our perspective, it affects the reporter’s source privilege and reporter protections, “Katie Townsend, legal director of the Reporters Committee on Freedom of the Press, previously told CNN. “These things are routinely filed away and sealed and kept sealed and kept sealed indefinitely.”
In some cases, members of the media are notified before subpoenas are issued, giving news organizations the ability to fight subpoenas in court.
But Justice Department policy also allows prosecutors to obtain communications from journalists without their knowledge through the courts, if the attorney general signs and the department determines that the case falls under “extraordinary measures,” such as damage to property. national security, and after other reasonable attempts have been made to obtain the information elsewhere.
CNN’s Jeremy Herb and Jessica Schneider contributed to this report.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism