The Trump administration secretly obtained non-content phone records for three Washington Post reporters who published stories detailing discussions between Russia and members of former President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign, according to the Department of Justice.
The Justice Department sent letters dated May 3 to three current and former reporters at the newspaper, informing them that DOJ had obtained phone records from the period of April 15, 2017, to July 31, 2017, the Washington Post reported.
The records included the caller and recipient of each call as well as the duration, but not what was said on the calls.
The letters did not say why the records were seized. But during the three-and-a-half-month period, the three Washington Post reporters had published a story on intelligence intercepts indicating that former Attorney General Jeff Sessions had discussed details pertaining to Trump’s presidential campaign with then-Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak.
“We are deeply troubled by this use of government power to seek access to the communications of journalists,” Washington Post executive editor Cameron Barr said in a statement. “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.”
During his presidency, Trump regularly criticized media outlets that published stories regarding the federal investigation into whether members of his campaign colluded with Russian officials ahead of the 2016 election. The former president also called for a crackdown on leaks originating from federal institutions.
The Washington Post that the Justice Department rarely seizes phone records from journalists and the sitting attorney general must approve such an action.
Justice Department spokesman Marc Raimondi confirmed that officials pulled the phone records in 2020, near the end of Trump’s term in office. At the time, William Barr was serving as Attorney General.
“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 the unauthorized disclosure of classified information,” Raimondi said in a statement.
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“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,” he added.
The letters to the reporters also noted that the Justice Department got a court order to seize “non-content communication records” from their work email accounts but did not obtain them.