The Trump Justice Department secretly obtained 2017 telephone and email records for a CNN reporter in yet another example of the administration’s attempt to use journalists’ communications to pursue government leak investigations.
CNN disclosed Thursday that Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr was informed in a May 13 letter that prosecutors had obtained two months of phone and email records between June 1, 2017 and July 31, 2017.
The Justice notification, according to the network, included the reporter’s Pentagon extension, her home and cell phones and her personal email accounts.
Earlier this month, the Washington Post reported that Justice obtained 2017 phone records involving three of its reporters who covered the investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election.
In the CNN case, a Justice spokesman Thursday confirmed the records involved 2017 communications and that the “process to seek these records was approved in 2020.”
“Department leadership will soon meet with reporters to hear their concerns about recent notices and further convey Attorney General (Merrick) Garland’s staunch support of and commitment to a free and independent press,” Justice spokesman Anthony Coley said.
In its report, CNN President Jeff Zucker condemned the Justice action.
“We are asking for an immediate meeting with the Justice Department for an explanation,” Zucker said.
Citing the Justice notification, CNN reported that the government had obtained phone “toll records,” which would include calls made to and from the targeted phones and the length of the calls.
“The letter said that the Justice Department had received ‘non-content information’ from Starr’s email accounts, meaning the recipient, sender, date and time would be included, but not the content of the emails,” the network said..
CNN said Justice did not disclose why it sought Starr’s communications, though the network said the Pentagon correspondent was involved in reporting on “U.S. military options in North Korea that were ready to be presented to Trump, as well as stories on Syria and Afghanistan.”
“This is a big story that just got bigger,” said Bruce Brown, executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. “That a journalist from another news organization had communications records seized by the Trump Justice Department suggests that the last administration’s efforts to intrude into reporter-source relationships and chill newsgathering is more sweeping than we originally thought.
“The Justice Department’s current leadership should provide a detailed explanation about what exactly happened and why, and how it plans to strengthen protections for the free flow of information to the public.”