The Washington Post reported on Friday that the Department of Justice under former President Donald Trump secretly obtained phone records from some of the newspaper’s reporters.
The Post reported that the DOJ sent letters dated May 3 to Post reporters Ellen Nakashima and Greg Miller, and former Post reporter Adam Entous, informing them that they were “hereby notified that pursuant to legal process the United States Department of Justice received toll records associated with the following telephone numbers for the period from April 15, 2017 to July 31, 2017.”
The newspaper said the records were obtained over reporting done in early 2017 over the role of Russia in the 2016 presidential election. Intelligence agencies and independent experts have repeatedly pointed to Russian efforts to meddle with that vote, even as Trump himself steadfastly tried to fight those conclusions.
The newspaper and its reporters were frequently singled out for attack by Trump, along with other outlets that invoked his displeasure by breaking news about his administration.
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The Post on Friday called such a move by the DOJ “rare” and noted that these kinds of efforts require approval by the attorney general. A Justice Department spokesperson confirmed to the newspaper that the approval came in 2020. The attorney general for most of that year was William Barr.
Marc Raimondi, a spokesman for the Justice Department, told the Post that “(w)hile rare, the Department follows the established procedures within its media guidelines policy when seeking legal process to obtain telephone toll records and non-content email records from media members as part of a criminal investigation into unauthorized disclosure of classified information.”
He added: “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.”
Jeff Sessions, the first attorney general under Trump, made cracking down on leakers a top priority of the department.
“I have this warning for would-be leakers: Don’t do it,” Sessions said in August 2017. “I strongly agree with the president and condemn in the strongest terms the staggering number of leaks.”