The Department of Justice quietly seized phone records and tried to obtain email records for three Washington Post reporters, ostensibly over their coverage of then-U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Russia’s role in the 2016 presidential election, according to officials and government letters reviewed by the Post.
Justice Department regulations typically mandate that news organizations be notified when it subpoenas such records. However, though the Trump administration OK’d the decision, officials apparently left the notification part for the Biden administration to deal with. I guess they just never got around to it. Probably too busy inspiring an insurrection and trying to overthrow the presidential election.
In three separate letters dated May 3 addressed to reporters Ellen Nakashima, Greg Miller, and former reporter Adam Entous, the Justice Department wrote 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,” according to the Post. Listed were Miller’s work and cellphone numbers, Entous’ cellphone number, and Nakashima’s work, cellphone, and home phone numbers. These records included all calls to and from the phones as well as how long each call lasted but did not reveal what was said.
According to the letters, the Post reports that prosecutors also secured a court order to seize “non content communications records” for the reporters’ email accounts, which would disclose who emailed whom and when the emails were sent but not their contents. However, officials ultimately did not obtain these records, the outlet said.
“We are deeply troubled by this use of government power to seek access to the communications of journalists,” said the Post’s acting executive editor Cameron Barr. “The Department of Justice should immediately make clear its reasons for this intrusion into the activities of reporters doing their jobs, an activity protected under the First Amendment.”
Frustratingly, the letters apparently don’t go into why the Department of Justice seized this data. A department spokesperson told the outlet that the decision to do so was made in 2020 during the Trump administration. (It’s worth noting that former President Donald Trump has made it crystal clear that he despises news media and the government leakers that provide them their scoops.)
Based on the time period cited in the letters and what the reporters covered during those months, the Post speculates that their investigations into Sessions and Russian interference could be why the department wanted to get its hands on their phone data.