Efforts to seize journalists ’records are“ extraordinary measures, not standard investigative practices, ”according to the regulations, which allow prosecutors to follow these steps only with the highest level of approval, when the rest have been exhausted. media and after continuing negotiations with those affected. journalist or news organization.
The law makes an exception to this requirement of prior notification only if “the Attorney General determines that, for compelling reasons, such negotiations or communications would pose a clear and substantial threat to the integrity of the investigation, or harm national security or present a imminent risk of death or serious bodily injury “.
Apparently, the Department of Justice told the magistrate that imposing a gag order on Google was justified, as – as the judge wrote – “there is reason to believe that notification of the existence of this order will put endangering ongoing research, even giving targets an opportunity to destroy or manipulate evidence ”.
It is unclear how prosecutors presented this case, as the existence of the leak investigation and its subject matter – which appeared to focus on James B. Comey Jr., the former director of the FBI, and a document that Russian hackers had stolen – it was already public knowledge; The Times had reported almost a year earlier. On Saturday, David McCraw, the newspaper’s chief attorney, said he will ask the judge to seal the files prosecutors filed arguing in favor of the secret order.
During the transition to the Biden administration, at least one official wrote in a note to the incoming Biden team that Comey’s leak investigation led to an attempt to seize the mail logs. Journalists’ e-mail should be shut down, according to a person familiar with matter.
After Mr. Biden took office, the administration placed officials in key positions in the department while waiting for the president’s senators to be confirmed by the Senate. Monty Wilkinson, a career civil servant, became the acting Attorney General.
Wilkinson was still in office on March 3, when a career prosecutor dealing with the matter, Tejpal Chawla, accepted Google’s demand that someone from The Times be informed, according to a contract that the two companies agreed when Google took over The Times Email System.