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The news comes less than two weeks later The Washington Post reported Trump’s Justice Department secretly obtained the phone records of three Post reporters and attempted to access their email logs. The move was apparent to uncover the sources of a story in 2017 about a federal investigation into alleged links between Russia and the then-president’s campaign.
“This is a big story just got bigger,” Bruce Brown, executive director of the Reporters’ Committee on Freedom of the Press, said in a statement. “The fact that a journalist from another news organization had seized communications records from the Trump Justice Department suggests that the recent administration’s efforts to break into reporter-source relationships and gather news are wider than we originally thought.”
Brown called on the Justice Department to provide a “detailed explanation” of what happened and why and how to “strengthen the protection of the free flow of information to the public.” Coley told POLITICO that department heads are “soon” meeting with reporters to “hear their concerns” and “forward the attorney general” [Merrick] Garland’s determined support and commitment to a free and independent press. “
CNN President Jeff Zucker criticized the Justice Department’s actions.
“CNN strongly condemns the secret collection of aspects of a journalist’s correspondence that are clearly protected by the first amendment,” Zucker said.
The Post’s story of Russia, which indicated that then-Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak had said he had spoken to Jeff Sessions, a then-adviser to the Trump campaign, on Russia-related issues, drew anger in his first few months in office Trump on himself. Two weeks into the story, Sessions – who was attorney general at the time – announced a crackdown on an alleged “culture of leaks”.
A Justice Department spokesman Marc Raimondi said the aim of the investigation involving Post reporters was not to prosecute reporters.
“The targets of these investigations are not the recipients of the news media, but those with access to the national defense information that they made available to the media and therefore did not protect them as required by law,” said Raimondi.
CNN said it was unclear when the investigation began with Starr, whether she was under sessions or under Attorney General William Barr, and what the Trump administration may have been looking for.
According to guidelines changed in 2013 under then Attorney General Eric Holder following controversy over the use of law enforcement mechanisms by journalists by the department, the DOJ must notify journalists of searches within 45 days or, in urgent circumstances, within 90 days. The timing of these announcements indicates that the Justice Department received the information under President Joe Biden.
Josh Gerstein contributed to this report.