Newly unsealed court records show the Trump Justice Department fought to secretly obtain the records of journalists up until former Attorney General William BarrBill BarrVirginia governor's race enters new phase as early voting begins Clinton lawyer's indictment reveals 'bag of tricks' Attorney indicted on charge of lying to FBI as part of Durham investigation MORE’s last days in office, while a judge who ordered the records published called the Biden administration's attempts to keep them sealed “puzzling.”
The Dec. 22 request for records of three journalists from The Washington Post was part of a string of leaked investigations initiated under the Trump administration. The investigations included seeking records from reporters from two additional outlets, two Democratic lawmakers on the House Intelligence Committee, and even former White House counsel Don McGahn.
The files offer new details about the Justice Department investigation, including how late into Barr’s tenure records were pursued, and how the agency suspected congressional staff may be the source of information.
The articles targeted by investigators were referenced only by their dates, but likely include stories that Jared KushnerJared Corey KushnerHouse panel tees up Trump executive privilege fight in Jan. 6 probe The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - US prepares vaccine booster plan House panel probing Jan. 6 attack seeks Trump records MORE had discussed using Russian facilities for back-channel communications with the Kremlin and another stating that former Attorney General Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsOvernight Hillicon Valley — Apple issues security update against spyware vulnerability Stanford professors ask DOJ to stop looking for Chinese spies at universities in US Overnight Energy & Environment — Democrats detail clean electricity program MORE had discussed campaign matters with then-Russian Ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislyak.
The filings also show the Biden administration was fighting as late as June, even after news broke they had seized records from Post reporters, to keep its initial application sealed, arguing it contains “non-public investigative and witness information.”
But a Tuesday order from Magistrate Judge Zia Faruqui said the government has an obligation to release the information now that the leak investigation has closed without any charges.
“Let there be no mistake: the government has a duty to 'mak[e] public appropriately redacted documents’ after an investigation is closed,” Faruqui wrote, noting that it was the government’s responsibility to redact the documents in order to facilitate the release.
“The government’s anti-redaxer stance is puzzling. … The ‘administrative burden' of doing its job is no escape hatch from completing this task,” he said.
He went on to reference two different Harrison Ford movies.
“A sealed matter is not generally, as the government persists in imagining, ‘nailed into a nondescript crate, stored deep in a sprawling, uncataloged warehouse,’ ” Faruqui wrote, referencing a case that quoted "Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark."
“Rather, it is merely frozen in carbonite, awaiting its eventual thawing,” he said, citing "Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back."
In the days following news that the Justice Department had obtained records from multiple outlets, the department said it “will not seek compulsory legal process in leak investigations to obtain source information from members of the news media doing their jobs.”
Advocates however, have pushed the department to seek legislation to codify the policy.