Trump's Justice Department seized phone records of four New York Times reporters

Elias Hubbard
June 5, 2021

The newspaper said the records that were seized covered a almost four-month period in 2017 and belonged to reporters Matt Apuzzo, Adam Goldman, Eric Lichtblau and Michael S. Schmidt. The Biden administration has already informed CNN and The Washington Post that the phone records and email logs of its reporters were secretly obtained previous year, a practice that President Biden said is "simply, simply wrong" and will not happen under his administration.

The Justice Department (DOJ) on Saturday said it will no longer secretly obtain reporters' records during investigations into leaks of classified information, after the New York Times revealed that it had been the subject of a gag order amid a court fight over efforts to obtain its reporters' email records.

News of the seized phone records marks just the latest disclosure about the Trump administration's heavy-handed tactics toward leak investigations involving journalists. Inside the Justice Department, officials have on several occasions over the years revised internal guidelines to afford media organizations better protection without ever removing from their arsenal the prerogative to subpoena reporters' records. Lichtblau has since left the newspaper. The department said the reporters are neither subjects nor targets of the investigation, but did not reveal which leak was under investigation. The Obama Justice Department, under then-Attorney General Eric Holder, alerted The Associated Press in 2013 that it had secretly obtained two months of phone records of reporters and editors in what the news cooperative's top executive called a "massive and unprecedented intrusion" into newsgathering activities.

"Members of the news media have now been notified in every instance" where their records were sought in 2019 and 2020 in leak investigations, Justice Department spokesman Anthony Coley said Wednesday.

According to the Times, based on the timing of the records and the reporters involved, the federal investigation centered on an April 2017 story about James Comey's handling of certain investigations during the 2016 presidential election.

President Biden had appeared to support ending the practice, and last month declared it "simply, simply wrong" after it emerged that the Trump administration secretly obtained 2017 records of a CNN correspondent.

The practice of using court orders to obtain records has been used by multiple administrations, both Republican and Democrat, as they sought to root out the sources of leaked classified information to the media.

Jeff Sessions, who served as Trump's first attorney general, announced in 2017 an aggressive government crackdown on leaks.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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