WASHINGTON – The Justice Department under the Trump administration targeted the phone and email records of a prominent CNN journalist reporting on the Pentagon as part of an investigation into the apparent classified disclosure Network revealed on Thursday.
The federal prosecutor’s office secretly received the records, which covered a period of two months from June 2017. In a letter to CNN, prosecutors admitted that they had not only requested records Barbara Starrs business and personal email accounts, but also phone records for their Pentagon offices and home, and for their cell phones.
It was not clear which CNN article prompted the Justice Department to obtain the records, but finding them should be the final step that F.B.I. Agents and prosecutors after all other efforts are exhausted to uncover the source of sensitive information.
“CNN strongly condemns the secret collection of aspects of a journalist’s correspondence that are clearly protected by the first amendment,” said Jeff Zucker, president of the network. “We request an immediate meeting with the Justice Department for an explanation.”
CNN said the department received “non-substantive information” from Ms. Starr’s email accounts. This means that the prosecutors could see who sent emails and when, but couldn’t read them.
The disclosure that the Justice Department seized the CNN reporter’s recordings came less than two weeks after prosecutors announced they had secretly obtained the phone recordings from three reporters at the Washington Post in the early months of the Trump administration.
The Justice Department under President Donald J. Trump also prosecuted a former Senate assistant for his contacts with reporters in a case in which prosecutors secretly confiscated years’ worth of phone and email records from a New York Times reporter. In The Post’s case, reporters wrote an article during this period referring to US surveillance sections, which are ranked high and among the government’s best kept secrets.
A Justice Department spokesman Anthony D. Coley said in a statement Thursday that “the records in question relate to 2017 and the legal process for obtaining those records in 2020 has been approved.”
He added that “senior management will soon be meeting with reporters to hear their concerns about the recent announcements” and conveying attorney general Merrick B. Garlands “firm support and commitment to a free and independent press.”
The Justice Department’s decision to seek a court order over the CNN reporter’s recordings would have required the approval of then Attorney General William P. Barr, as would have been the case in the Post case.
Mr. Trump often targeted CNN and The Post, accusing the outlets of selling “fake news”. In early 2017, he said he had directed the Justice Department to investigate the leaks, which he called “criminal”.
A few months after Mr. Trump’s comments, then Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that the Justice Department was conducting about three times as many leak investigations as it was open at the end of the Obama administration.
Mr Sessions said the F.B.I. had set up counterintelligence to specialize in such cases. Former federal law enforcement officers said the leaks had been consolidated and prosecutors and agents were handling them. Leak traces are rare and notoriously difficult.
The Obama administration oversaw nearly a dozen law enforcement-related spills, more than all previous presidents combined.
The Ministry of Justice rules Investigators must use all other means to obtain the information they are looking for before examining reporters’ phone logs or summoning journalists for notes or testimony that might compel them to help investigators identify their confidential sources or for contempt to be imprisoned. The rules are intended to limit any deterrent effect on the message-gathering process.
After President Barack Obama’s department subpoenaed the phone records of editors and reporters from The Associated Press and Fox News in separate leak investigations, the administration faced a backlash from the news media.
In 2013, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. revised the Justice Department’s rules to further tighten the limits on when the government can summon telephone companies to log a reporter’s phone calls. The changes made it difficult for law enforcement officers to obtain such recordings without notice and gave news organizations the opportunity to challenge the application in court.
Unless the Attorney General determines that such negotiations or announcements pose a clear and significant threat to the integrity of the investigation for compelling reasons, seriously harm national security, or pose an imminent risk of death or serious harm, ”according to the Guidelines .
Typically, the federal authorities making the criminal transfers to the Justice Department must respond to a List of 11 questions of the leak and the damage it caused, including the spread of the information throughout the government and the accuracy of the information.