Trump DOJ Secretly Seized Post Reporters’ Phone Records

WASHINGTON, DC - DECEMBER 09: The Justice Department building on a foggy morning on December 9, 2019 in Washington, DC. It is expected that the Justice Department Inspector General will release his report on the investigation into the Justice and FBI’s conduct during the FISA warrant process as it relates to the 2016 election today.(Photo by Samuel Corum/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - DECEMBER 09: The Justice Department building on a foggy morning on December 9, 2019 in Washington, DC. It is expected that the Justice Department Inspector General will release his report on the inve... WASHINGTON, DC - DECEMBER 09: The Justice Department building on a foggy morning on December 9, 2019 in Washington, DC. It is expected that the Justice Department Inspector General will release his report on the investigation into the Justice and FBIs conduct during the FISA warrant process as it relates to the 2016 election today.(Photo by Samuel Corum/Getty Images) MORE LESS

The Justice Department under President Donald Trump secretly obtained the phone records of three Washington Post reporters over reporting they did in the early months of the Trump administration, the Washington Post reported on Friday night

The Post said that the Justice Department wrote in letters addressed to its reporters Ellen Nakashima and Greg Miller, and former reporter Adam Entous, that they were “hereby notified that pursuant to legal process the United States Department of Justice received toll records associated with the following telephone numbers for the period from April 15, 2017 to July 31, 2017.”

The letters do not specify the purpose of the seizure which also included an effort to obtain records from work email accounts which investigators ultimately did not obtain.

The Post notes, however, that in July 2017, the reporters named had written a story that detailed discussions about the Trump campaign between then-Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) and Russian ambassador to the United States, Sergey Kislyak. Sessions was at the Justice Department serving as Trump’s first attorney-general when the article appeared.

The same three journalists also wrote a story about the Obama administration’s struggles to combat Russian meddling in the 2016 election, the Post said.

The high-profile seizure, which listed, work, home or cell phone numbers for the reporters, is the latest example of a controversial government practice of obtaining  journalists’ records in likely efforts to identify the sources of leaks.

A department spokesman told the Post that the decision to seek a court order for the records must be approved by the attorney general came in 2020 during the Trump administration. 

For the majority of 2020 that would have been Bill Barr who resigned Dec. 23.

A department spokesman, Marc Raimondi, defended that “rare” decision, in a statement to the Post, saying that the DOJ follows established procedures within its media guidelines policy when seeking legal process to obtain telephone and email records from media members “as part of a criminal investigation into unauthorized disclosure of classified information.”

“The targets of these investigations are not the news media recipients but rather those with access to the national defense information who provided it to the media and thus failed to protect it as lawfully required,” Raimondi said.

Cameron Barr, the Post’s acting executive editor said in a statement that the paper was “deeply troubled by this use of government power to seek access to the communications of journalists.”

“The Department of Justice immediately make clear its reasons for this intrusion into the activities of reporters doing their jobs, an activity protected under the First Amendment,” he said.

Dear Reader,

When we asked recently what makes TPM different from other outlets, readers cited factors like honesty, curiosity, transparency, and our vibrant community. They also pointed to our ability to report on important stories and trends long before they are picked up by mainstream outlets; our ability to contextualize information within the arc of history; and our focus on the real-world consequences of the news.

Our unique approach to reporting and presenting the news, however, wouldn’t be possible without our readers’ support. That’s not just marketing speak, it’s true: our work would literally not be possible without readers deciding to become members. Not only does member support account for more than 80% of TPM’s revenue, our members have helped us build an engaged and informed community. Many of our best stories were born from reader tips and valuable member feedback.

We do what other news outlets can’t or won’t do because our members’ support gives us real independence.

If you enjoy reading TPM and value what we do, become a member today.

Latest News
Comments
Masthead Masthead
Founder & Editor-in-Chief:
Executive Editor:
Managing Editor:
Associate Editor:
Investigations Desk:
Reporters:
Newswriters:
Director of Audience:
Editor at Large:
General Counsel:
Publisher:
Head of Product:
Director of Technology:
Associate Publisher:
Front End Developer:
Senior Designer: