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Feds seized Washington Post reporters’ phone records in leak probe

Published: (Updated: ) in USA news by .

The Justice Department informed three journalists that it probed their contacts during the height of the Trump-Russia saga.


The Justice Department obtained call records for the phones of three Washington Post reporters last year in an apparent bid to discover the sources for a 2017 story detailing a sensitive aspect of the federal investigation into alleged ties between the Trump campaign and Russia, the newspaper said Friday.

Federal investigators used court orders to obtain so-called toll records on phones used by a trio of Post reporters who worked on a July 2017 story about intelligence intercepts indicating that Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak told superiors he discussed issues related to Russia with then-Trump campaign adviser Jeff Sessions during the 2016 presidential race, according to the Post.

Such intercepts are considered signals intelligence and are typically treated as highly classified. At his confirmation hearing for attorney general, Sessions denied ever meeting the ambassador during the campaign, but later acknowledged the encounters while denying Kislyak's reported accounts of the meetings.

The toll records typically indicate what numbers a reporter called or received calls from and for how long the call was connected, but do not include information on the content of the conversations.

The Post said the journalists — Ellen Nakashima, Greg Miller and former Post reporter Adam Entous — received letters on May 3 notifying them that the government obtained their calling records from April 15, 2017 through July 31, 2017.

A top Post editor, Cameron Barr, said in a statement that the newspaper is disturbed by the tactics.

“We are deeply troubled by this use of government power to seek access to the communications of journalists,” 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.”

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The Post story was one of a series of leaks that infuriated President Donald Trump during his first months in office. Just two weeks after the report about Kislyak and Sessions, Sessions announced a major crackdown on what he called a "culture of leaks." The attorney general also announced he was creating an FBI unit devoted solely to unlawful disclosures of classified information in the media and he said the department was reviewing its policy on subpoenas seeking information from or about journalists. No changes to the policy were subsequently announced.

Justice Department spokesperson Marc Raimondi declined to discuss specifics about the steps taken toward the Post or to say precisely who was under investigation, but he emphasized that the goal was not to prosecute the journalists.

“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 the unauthorized disclosure of classified information,” Raimondi said. “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 Post said the notices it received indicated that investigators obtained permission to access information on what accounts the reporters were emailing to or receiving emails from but that no such data was received by the government. A Post spokesperson declined to comment on why or to say if the newspaper knew of the government’s investigation before this week.

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However, an official confirmed that the orders were not obtained until last year. That raises the likelihood that the yearsold emails may have been automatically or manually deleted by the time investigators got permission to seek the data.

It seems unlikely the Post would have agreed to turn over the email data without a legal fight. It is unclear whether one of the paper’s service providers would have had access to the information.

Under guidelines revamped by Attorney General Eric Holder in 2013 following controversies over the department's use of legal tools to snoop on reporters, the department is required to notify journalists about such searches within 45 days after obtaining the records.

The attorney general can extend that period to 90 days under exigent circumstances but additional delays are not permitted.

The issuance of the notices earlier this week suggests the department did not receive the data until February of this year or later, after the Biden administration came into office.

Source: Politics, Policy, Political News Top Stories https://www.politico.com/news/2021/05/07/washington-post-russia-phone-records-485923

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