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.