Media

Trump DOJ seized phone records of New York Times reporters

The New York Times reported on Wednesday that the Justice Department under former President Trump quietly seized phone records from 2017 from four of its reporters.

The Department of Justice (DOJ), now under President Biden, told the newspaper that officials seized records from Jan. 14 to April 30, 2017, from reporters Matt Apuzzo, Adam Goldman, Eric Lichtblau and Michael S. Schmidt. The DOJ also got a court order to seize logs of their emails, but “no records were obtained.”

The Justice Department didn’t tell the Times what article was being investigated. But the newspaper suggested that the Justice Department was looking into an article the reporters wrote about how former FBI Director James Comey handled investigations during the 2016 presidential election.

The article, published April 22, 2017, was about Comey’s decision to announce in July 2016 that the FBI was making a recommendation to not charge former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in connection with an investigation into her use of a private email server for official business.

The Times noted that the story mentioned a classified document that the newspaper obtained, which was a memo from a Democratic operative expressing confidence that then- Attorney General Loretta Lynch could keep the investigation in check. 

The Times’s executive editor, Dean Baquet, told the newspaper that seizing reporters’ phone records “profoundly undermines press freedom.”

“It threatens to silence the sources we depend on to provide the public with essential information about what the government is doing,” Baquet said.

In a statement to The Hill, DOJ spokesperson Anthony Coley said the department, under Trump, had obtained 2017 phone records in 2020 “as part of a criminal investigation into the unauthorized disclosure of classified information” adding that “the journalists were neither subjects nor targets of the investigation.”

“Forthcoming annual public reports from the Department covering 2019 and 2020 will indicate that members of the news media have now been notified in every instance in this period in which their records were sought or obtained in such circumstances,” Coley said.

The Times is the latest to reveal that the Justice Department had sought records from reporters as part of investigations into leaks during the Trump administration.

The Washington Post was the first to reveal in early May that Trump’s DOJ sought phone phone records from several of its reporters from the time period of April 15 to July 31, 2017.

CNN later reported that the DOJ secretly obtained phone and email records from its Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr from June 1 to July 31, 2017.

After CNN’s disclosure, President Biden said it was “absolutely, positively” wrong to seize reporters’ communications, and vowed that his administration never do so.

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) urged Attorney General Merrick Garland to end the practice last month.

Updated June 3 10:55 a.m.

Tags CNN Department of Justice Donald Trump Hillary Clinton James Comey Jamie Raskin Joe Biden Merrick Garland Ron Wyden The New York Times The Washington Post

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