The New York Times is the latest media outlet to learn that the Trump administration secretly obtained the phone records of its reporters as part of a leak investigation.
The Department of Justice informed the Times that law enforcement officials had seized 2017 phone records from reporters Matt Apuzzo, Adam Goldman, Eric Lichtblau and Michael S. Schmidt. A Justice Department spokesman said on Wednesday that law enforcement officials obtained the records in 2020, and said that “members of the news media have now been notified in every instance” of leak investigations from the 2019-2020 period in which their records were sought.
“Seizing the phone records of journalists profoundly undermines press freedom,” Dean Baquet, the executive editor of the New York Times, said in a statement. “It threatens to silence the sources we depend on to provide the public with essential information about what the government is doing.”
“President Biden has said this sort of interference with a free press will not be tolerated in his administration,” Baquet added. “We expect the Department of Justice to explain why this action was taken and what steps are being taken to make certain it does not happen again in the future.”
Last month, the Washington Post revealed that three of its reporters’ phone records were secretly obtained by President Donald Trump’s Justice Department as a result of reporting they did on Russia’s role in the 2016 election. The DOJ also attempted to obtain the reporters’ email records.
“We are deeply troubled by this use of government power to seek access to the communications of journalists,” The Post’s acting executive editor Cameron Barr said. “The Department of Justice should immediately make clear its reasons for this intrusion into the activities of reporters doing their jobs, an activity protected under the First Amendment.”
According to the Times, based on the timing of the records and the reporters involved, the federal investigation centered on an April 2017 story about James Comey’s handling of certain investigations during the 2016 presidential election.
In a May 13 letter, Justice Department informed CNN’s Barbara Starr, a Pentagon correspondent, that prosecutors had obtained her phone and email records from June 1, 2017 to July 31, 2017. The letter listed phone numbers for Starr’s Pentagon extension, the CNN Pentagon booth phone number and her home and cell phones, as well as Starr’s work and personal email accounts.
“CNN strongly condemns the secret collection of any aspect of a journalist’s correspondence, which is clearly protected by the First Amendment,” CNN president Jeff Zucker said in a statement. “We are asking for an immediate meeting with the Justice Department for an explanation.”
In response, President Joe Biden denounced those actions and said they wouldn’t happen under his administration. “I won’t let that happen,” Biden said at the time.