President Donald Trump’s Department of Justice secretly obtained phone records of multiple Washington Post reporters, the newspaper reported on Friday.
According to The Washington Post, the three reporters, who were looking into Russia’s role in the 2016 election, each received a letter from DOJ dated May 3.
The letters informed 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,” according to the newspaper.
The reporters were Ellen Nakashima, Greg Miller and Adam Entous, who no longer works for the Post. The newspaper added that work, home or cellphone numbers for each reporter over a three and a half month period were included in the letters. The DOJ also attempted to obtain e-mail records, according to the Post’s report.
Cameron Barr, the acting executive editor of the Washington Post, told CNN in a statement that the paper is “deeply troubled by this use of government power to seek access to the communications of journalists.”
“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,” Barr added in a statement.
The Department of Justice defended its move to obtain the records in a statement to CNN.
“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 e-mail records from media members as part of a criminal investigation into the unauthorized disclosure of classified information,” the DOJ said.
The statement continued, “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. Seeking media records is only done after all reasonable attempts have been made to obtain the information from alternative sources.”
Bruce Brown, the executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, said on Friday that “whenever the government seeks to obtain records of journalists’ communications, it raises serious First Amendment concerns” since it “interferes with the free flow of information to the public.”
“It is imperative that the new Justice Department leadership explain exactly when prosecutors seized these records, why it is only now notifying the Post, and on what basis the Justice Department decided to forgo the presumption of advance notification under its own guidelines when the investigation apparently involves reporting over three years in the past,” Brown added.