WASHINGTON — The Justice Department below the Trump administration focused the cellphone and e-mail data of a outstanding CNN journalist who covers the Pentagon as a part of an investigation into the obvious disclosure of labeled info, the network revealed on Thursday.
Federal prosecutors secretly obtained the data, which lined a two-month interval starting in June 2017. In a letter to CNN, prosecutors acknowledged they not solely sought data for Barbara Starr’s work and private e-mail accounts, but in addition cellphone data for her workplaces on the Pentagon and at residence, in addition to for her cellphones.
It was not clear which CNN article prompted the Justice Department to acquire the data, however looking for them is meant to be the final step that F.B.I. brokers and prosecutors take after exhausting all different efforts to uncover the supply of delicate info.
“CNN strongly condemns the secret collection of any aspect of a journalist’s correspondence, which is clearly protected by the First Amendment,” mentioned Jeff Zucker, the community’s president. “We are asking for an immediate meeting with the Justice Department for an explanation.”
CNN mentioned the division had obtained “non-content information” from Ms. Starr’s e-mail accounts. That means prosecutors have been capable of see who despatched emails and when, however weren’t capable of learn them.
The disclosure that the Justice Department had seized the CNN reporter’s data comes lower than two weeks after prosecutors revealed they’d secretly obtained the cellphone data of three reporters at The Washington Post within the early months of the Trump administration.
The Justice Department below President Donald J. Trump additionally prosecuted a former Senate aide over his contacts with reporters in a case the place prosecutors secretly seized years’ price of a New York Times reporter’s cellphone and e-mail data. In the case of The Post, the reporters had written an article throughout that point interval that referred to U.S. surveillance intercepts, that are extremely labeled and a number of the most carefully held secrets and techniques within the authorities.
A spokesman for the Justice Department, Anthony D. Coley, mentioned in a press release on Thursday that “the records at issue relate to 2017, and the legal process to seek these records was approved in 2020.”
He added that “department leadership will soon meet with reporters to hear their concerns about recent notices” and to impart Attorney General Merrick B. Garland’s “staunch support of and commitment to a free and independent press.”
The Justice Department’s resolution to hunt a court docket order for the CNN reporter’s data would have required the approval of the lawyer normal on the time, William P. Barr, as it might have within the Post case.
Mr. Trump steadily took intention at CNN and The Post, accusing the retailers of peddling “fake news.” In early 2017, he mentioned he had directed the Justice Department to look into the leaks, which he referred to as “criminal.”
Several months after Mr. Trump’s feedback, Jeff Sessions, the lawyer normal on the time, introduced that the Justice Department was pursuing about thrice as many leak investigations as have been open on the finish of the Obama administration.
Mr. Sessions mentioned that the F.B.I. had created a counterintelligence unit to concentrate on such circumstances. Former federal legislation enforcement officers mentioned the leak circumstances have been consolidated, with prosecutors and brokers working them. Leak prosecutions are uncommon and notoriously troublesome.
The Obama administration oversaw almost a dozen leak-related prosecutions, greater than all earlier presidents mixed.
The Justice Department’s rules require investigators to exhaust all different methods to acquire the knowledge they’re looking for earlier than inspecting reporters’ cellphone logs or subpoenaing journalists for notes or testimony that would power them to assist investigators establish their confidential sources, or face imprisonment for contempt. The guidelines are supposed to restrict any chilling impact on the news-gathering course of.
After the division below President Barack Obama subpoenaed the cellphone data of editors and reporters at The Associated Press and Fox News in separate leak investigations, the administration endured a backlash from the information media.
In 2013, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. revised Justice Department guidelines to additional tighten limits on when the federal government is allowed to subpoena phone firms for logs of a reporter’s cellphone calls. The modifications made it more durable for legislation enforcement officers to acquire such data with out offering advance discover and giving information organizations an opportunity to contest the request in court docket.
Unless, nevertheless, the lawyer normal “determines that, for compelling reasons, such negotiations or notice would pose a clear and substantial threat to the integrity of the investigation, risk grave harm to national security, or present an imminent risk of death or serious bodily harm,” based on the rules.
Typically, the federal companies that make the felony referrals to the Justice Department should reply a list of 11 questions concerning the leak and the harm it prompted, together with how extensively the knowledge was disseminated all through the federal government and whether or not it was correct.