U.S. Government Seized Phone Data Of Journalists Who Wrote About Trump
Campaign’s Russia Ties
May 10, 2021
The Justice Department secretly obtained the phone records of three Washington
Post reporters who wrote about the federal investigation into ties between
Russia and former President Donald Trump's 2016 campaign, the newspaper said on
The action appears to have been aimed at identifying the reporters’ sources for
stories published in 2017 during the early months of Trump’s administration as
federal investigators scrutinized whether Trump’s 2016 campaign had coordinated
with Russia to sway the election.
The newspaper said the three reporters received notice that their phone records
had been seized in letters dated May 3.
The Post said the Justice Department did not specify the purpose of the subpoena
to obtain the records or identify any articles at issue, but the newspaper said
the period in question was April 15, 2017, to July 31, 2017.
During that time the Post published a story about classified U.S. intelligence
intercepts indicating that in 2016 Jeff Sessions, who would later become Trump’s
attorney general, had discussed campaign issues with Russia's then-ambassador,
The phone records include who called whom, when calls were made, and how long
calls lasted, but do not include what was said in the calls. Investigators often
hope such records will lead them to the sources who leaked sensitive information
The letters sent to the reporters do not say when the Justice Department
approved the decision to subpoena their records, but a department spokesman said
it happened in 2020 before the end of the Trump administration.
Cameron Barr, the Washington Post's acting executive editor, demanded that the
Justice Department say why it seized the data.
"We are deeply troubled by this use of government power to seek access to the
communications of journalists,” 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
Justice Department guidelines for leak investigations mandate that such actions
are allowed only when other avenues for obtaining the information have been
exhausted, and that the affected reporters must be notified unless it's
determined that it would interfere with national security.
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,”
department spokesman Marc Raimondi said in a statement quoted by the Post.
Raimondi said the targets such investigations are not the reporters but “those
with access to the national defense information who provided it to the media and
thus failed to protect it as lawfully required.”
The Justice Department also said it had received a court order to get e-mail
records from the reporters but did not obtain them. The e-mail records sought
would have indicated who e-mailed whom and when but would not have included the
contents of the e-mails.