The Justice Department under former President Trump obtained phone records of Washington Post reporters and attempted to get access to their email records surrounding their reporting on Russia’s efforts to meddle in the 2016 presidential election, according to a new report.
The Washington Post reported Friday that reporters Ellen Nakashima and Greg Miller, who still work for the paper, and Adam Entous, who previously reported for it, received letters from the Department of Justice (DOJ) saying 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.”
The letters included the reporters’ work, home or cellphone numbers covering the time period detailed in the letter. They also said the DOJ sought “non content communication records” for reporters’ work email accounts but that the department never got the information.
The DOJ did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Hill.
The Post panned the revelation that government officials had sought reporters’ phone records.
“We are deeply troubled by this use of government power to seek access to the communications of journalists. 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,” Cameron Barr, The Post’s acting executive editor, told the paper.
The letters sent to the reporters did not specify when the information was obtained, but the DOJ told The Post that the effort was started in 2020. The phone records the DOJ obtained included when calls were made, to whom they were made and how long phone conversations lasted.
Details of the conversations were not included in the records the DOJ obtained.
Such efforts by the DOJ are rare and must come from the attorney general. William BarrBill BarrThe Hill’s Morning Report – Presented by Emergent BioSolutions – Facebook upholds Trump ban; GOP leaders back Stefanik to replace Cheney Judge’s decision on Barr memo puts spotlight on secretive DOJ office Trump allies launching nonprofit focused on voter fraud MORE, who headed the DOJ for much of 2020 until Dec. 23, declined to comment to The Post.
“While rare, the Department follows the established procedures within its media guidelines policy when seeking legal process to obtain telephone toll records and non-content email records from media members as part of a criminal investigation into unauthorized disclosure of classified information,” Marc Raimondi, a DOJ spokesman, told the paper.
“The targets of these investigations are not the news media recipients 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.”
The letters to the reporters did not specify why their records were sought, but The Post story Friday noted that near the end of the time period detailed in the correspondence, the journalists had written a story about a conversation in 2016 that then-Sen. Jeff SessionsJefferson (Jeff) Beauregard SessionsEx-Sen. Doug Jones joins law and lobbying firm Arent Fox Former Barr spokesperson at DOJ hired to be Fox News Washington editor Biden should call for Article I immigration courts MORE (R-Ala.) had with Sergey Kislyak, Russia’s ambassador to the United States at the time, about the Trump campaign. They also wrote about the Obama administration’s efforts to combat against Russian election meddling in 2016.