President Donald Trump’s Justice Department “secretly” obtained a CNN reporter‘s records related to phone calls and email, the network said on Thursday.
CNN reported that the department informed Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr last week about the move, in which prosecutors were able to get email- and phone-related records for two months in 2017. Those records included both her personal and work phones and emails.
A Justice Department spokesperson, Anthony Coley, confirmed to POLITICO on Thursday night that the legal process to get the records was approved last year, but he did not explain why the records were sought.
The news comes less than two weeks after The Washington Post reported that Trump’s Justice Department secretly got three Post reporters’ phone records and tried to get their email logs. The move was in an apparent bid to uncover the sources for a story in 2017 on a federal investigation into alleged links between Russia and the then-president’s campaign.
“This is a big story that just got bigger,” Bruce Brown, the executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, said in a statement. “That a journalist from another news organization had communications records seized by the Trump Justice Department suggests that the last administration’s efforts to intrude into reporter-source relationships and chill newsgathering is more sweeping than we originally thought.”
Brown called on the Justice Department to give a “detailed explanation” of what happened and why, and how “it plans to strengthen protections for the free flow of information to the public.” Coley told POLITICO that department leaders are convening with reporters “soon” to “hear their concerns” and “further convey Attorney General [Merrick] Garland’s staunch support of 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 any aspect of a journalist’s correspondence, which is clearly protected by the First Amendment,” Zucker said.
The Post’s story on Russia, which indicated then-Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak had said he discussed Russia-related topics with Jeff Sessions, a Trump campaign adviser at the time, drew the ire of Trump in the early months of his term. Two weeks after the story, Sessions — who at that time was attorney general — announced a crackdown on a supposed “culture of leaks.”
A Justice Department spokesperson, Marc Raimondi, said that the goal of the investigation involving Post reporters wasn’t to prosecute reporters.
“The targets of these investigations are not the news media recipients but rather those with access to the national defense information who provided it to the media and thus failed to protect it as lawfully required,” Raimondi said.
CNN said it was unclear when the investigation involving Starr began, whether it was under Sessions or Attorney General William Barr, and what the Trump administration might have been searching for.
Under guidelines changed in 2013 under then-Attorney General Eric Holder after controversies about the department’s use of law enforcement mechanisms involving journalists, the DOJ is required to notify journalists about searches within 45 days, or 90 days under pressing circumstances. These notices’ timing suggests the Justice Department received the information under President Joe Biden.
Josh Gerstein contributed to this report.