The Trump administration Justice Department secretly obtained 2017 phone and email records of a CNN correspondent covering the Pentagon as part of an apparent leak investigation. The DOJ disclosure, which was made public Thursday, is the latest in a string of similar Trump-era incidents where prosecutors targeted journalists’ personal and professional phone and email records as part of a hunt to identify the source of administration leaks of classified information. The DOJ said in a May 13 letter to CNN’s Barbara Starr that it had obtained Starr’s email and phone contacts during a two-month period in June and July 2017. The letter listed Starr’s Pentagon extension, her home and cell phones, as well as work and personal email accounts, as those that came under surveillance. The email records request was not content related, the DOJ said, but gleaned the identity of who the reporter had been conversing with during that period.
The Justice Department said Starr was not the subject of any investigation and confirmed that the records were formally sought through the legal process in 2020, the final year of Trump’s presidency. The chronology and goal of the investigation are still not totally clear, but the timing certainly suggests the Trump administration was combing back through and taking one last crack at identifying leakers, and perhaps settling scores. “The Justice Department also revealed this month that under Trump it had secretly obtained Washington Post journalists’ phone records and tried to obtain their email records,” CNN notes. “The seizure appears related to reporting during the early months of Trump’s presidency and focused on Russia’s interference in the 2016 election.”
“The Justice Department’s decision to seek a court order for the CNN reporter’s records would have required the approval of the attorney general at the time, William P. Barr, as it would have in the Post case,” the New York Times reports. “The Justice Department’s rules require investigators to exhaust all other ways to obtain the information they are seeking before examining reporters’ phone logs or subpoenaing journalists for notes or testimony that could force them to help investigators identify their confidential sources, or face imprisonment for contempt. The rules are intended to limit any chilling effect on the news-gathering process.”