Democrats urge DOJ to stop searching journalists' phone records

Democrats urge DOJ to stop searching journalists' phone records
© getty

Two Democratic lawmakers are urging the Department of Justice (DOJ) to prohibit agency employees from obtaining journalists’ phone records to identify their sources.

Sen. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenDemocrats release data showing increase in 'mega-IRA' accounts Senate Democrats press administration on human rights abuses in Philippines The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Jan. 6 probe, infrastructure to dominate week MORE (D-Ore.) and Rep. Jamie RaskinJamin (Jamie) Ben RaskinGOP Rep. Clyde defends 'normal tourist visit' comparison for Jan. 6 Five takeaways from a bracing day of Jan. 6 testimony Police officer repeatedly calls Jan. 6 rioters 'terrorists'  MORE (D-Md.) sent a letter to Attorney General Merrick GarlandMerrick GarlandDOJ issues warnings to states on voting laws and audits White House seeks to shield Biden from GOP attacks on crime issue Protesters shut down Greene-Gaetz Jan. 6 event MORE calling on him to end the practice of searching phone info on reporters.

“Simply put, the government should not collect journalists’ communications records unless it's investigating them for a crime or as part of an investigation into foreign espionage, in which case it should get a warrant,” the lawmakers wrote.

ADVERTISEMENT

The letter comes after The Washington Post reported that the DOJ under former President TrumpDonald TrumpFormer New York state Senate candidate charged in riot Trump called acting attorney general almost daily to push election voter fraud claim: report GOP senator clashes with radio caller who wants identity of cop who shot Babbitt MORE tried to obtain phone records from several of its reporters investigating Russia’s efforts to meddle in the 2016 presidential election.

The Post reported earlier this month that reporters Ellen Nakashima and Greg Miller, along with former Post reporter Adam Entous, received letters from the agency saying it had records from their phones for April 15 to July 31 in 2017. The records include calls made from their phones and how long each lasted, but didn’t include what was discussed on the calls.

The newspaper further reported that the DOJ sought “non content communication records” for their work email accounts, which the agency never received. The effort reportedly began in 2020, when former Attorney General William BarrBill BarrTrump called acting attorney general almost daily to push election voter fraud claim: report Highest-ranking GOP assemblyman in WI against another audit of 2020 vote Native Americans are targets of voter suppression too MORE was in charge.

A DOJ spokesperson told the Post that the reporters themselves were not under investigation, 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.”

In their letter, Wyden and Raskin said using subpoenas and surveillance orders to investigate reporters is “no less invasive and destructive than forcing a journalist to reveal their source.”

"The Biden administration has the opportunity to voluntarily leave behind the thuggish and Orwellian abuses of power of the last administration, and stand up as a world leader for press freedoms,” they wrote. “To that end, we urge you to revise the DOJ’s guidelines for investigations of journalists.”

The Hill has reached out to the Justice Department for comment on the letter.