Shortly after Donald Trump was elected to office four years ago, his admin’s Department of Justice secretly obtained the phone records of Washington Post journalists, as per the Washington Post’s report on the matter.
The Justice Department secretly seized the work, home, and cellphone numbers of reporters Ellen Nakashima and Greg Miller, as well as former Post journalist Adam Enotus. In a letter from May 3, 2021, the three were 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."
All three journalists had covered the issue of Russia’s alleged interference in the 2016 election between Hillary Clinton and Trump. The records cover the calls made to and from the phones of these reporters in the time period mentioned, as well as the length of the calls. In addition to the phone records that were seized, the DOJ also got a court order to get “non content communication records” for their respective email accounts, but this was not executed upon.
“We are deeply troubled by this use of government power to seek access to the communications of journalists," said Washington Post acting executive editor, Cameron Barr. "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."
In a statement, the Justice Department defended its actions. “While 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,” said Justice Department spokesman Marc Raimondi. “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.”
The ACLU heavily criticized the actions of the DOJ and said it “jeopardizes freedom of the press.”
The Obama administration had engaged in similiar tactics, and in 2013, it was made public that a handful of Associated Press reporters had their records seized.