WASHINGTON – The Trump administration’s Justice Department directed the telephone and email records of a prominent CNN reporter covering the Pentagon as part of an investigation into the alleged disclosure of classified information, he said. reveal the network on Thursday.
Federal prosecutors secretly obtained the records, which covered a two-month period beginning in June 2017. In a letter to CNN, prosecutors acknowledged that they were not just looking for records for work and personal email accounts. of Barbara Starr, but also for her Pentagon and home offices, as well as for her cell phones.
It was unclear which CNN article prompted the Justice Department to obtain the records, but it is supposed to be the last step for FBI agents and prosecutors after exhausting all other efforts to discover the source of confidential information.
“CNN strongly condemns the secret collection of any aspect of a journalist’s correspondence, which is clearly protected by the First Amendment,” said Jeff Zucker, president of the network. “We request an immediate meeting with the Justice Department to get an explanation.”
CNN said the department had received “uncontained information” from Ms. Starr’s email accounts. This means that prosecutors could see who was sending emails and when, but they were unable to read them.
The disclosure that the Justice Department had confiscated CNN reporter records comes less than two weeks after prosecutors revealed they had secretly obtained the telephone records of three journalists at the Washington Post in the early months of the Trump administration.
The Justice Department headed by President Donald J. Trump also prosecuted a former Senate aide for his contacts with journalists in a case in which prosecutors secretly confiscated the files by phone and email of a New York Times reporter. In the case of The Post, reporters had written an article during that time period that referred to highly-classified U.S. surveillance interceptions and some of the government’s best-kept secrets.
Justice Department spokesman Anthony D. Coley said Thursday in a statement that “the records in question refer to 2017 and that the legal process for obtaining those records was approved in 2020.”
He added that “the department’s leadership will soon meet with reporters to hear their concerns about recent warnings” and to impart firm prosecutor Merrick B. Garland with the “firm support and commitment of a free and independent press.”
The Justice Department’s decision to ask for a court order for the records of the CNN journalist would have required the approval of the attorney general at the time, William P. Barr, as he would in the Post case.
Trump frequently pointed to CNN and The Post, accusing the media of “fake news.” In early 2017, he said he had directed the Justice Department to examine the leaks, which he described as “criminal”.
Several months after Trump’s comments, Jeff Sessions, the attorney general at the time, announced that the Justice Department was conducting approximately three times as many leaked investigations that were opened at the end of the Obama administration.
Sessions said the FBI had set up a counterintelligence unit to specialize in such cases. Former federal police officials said the leak cases were consolidated, with prosecutors and officers working on them. Leakage processes are rare and notoriously difficult.
The Obama administration oversaw nearly a dozen leak-related processes, more than all previous presidents put together.
Justice Department rules require that investigators exhaust all other ways to obtain the information they seek before examining journalists ’telephone records or summoning journalists to obtain notes or testimonies that may force them to help investigators identify their confidential sources or to punish them in prison for contempt. The rules are intended to limit any creepy effect on the news collection process.
After President Barack Obama’s department cited the telephone records of The Associated Press and Fox News editors and journalists in separate investigations into leaks, the administration endured a media reaction.
In 2013, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. revised Justice Department rules to further tighten the limits on when the government is allowed to assign telephone companies the records of a journalist’s telephone calls. The changes made it difficult for law enforcement officials to obtain these records without notice and by offering information organizations the opportunity to answer the request judicially.
However, unless 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, seriously impair national security or present an imminent or serious risk of death.” according to the guidelines.
Typically, federal agencies that make criminal referrals to the Justice Department have to answer a list of 11 questions about the leak and the damage it caused, including the dissemination of information throughout the government and whether it was accurate.