Trump Justice Dept. seized phone records of 4 New York Times reporters

Biden's pledge on media freedom may be easier said than done

The Department of Justice said on Saturday that it would no longer seek source information from reporters in leak investigations after recent revelations that former President Donald Trump's administration had secretly obtained phone and email records from a number of journalists. The Obama Justice Department, under then-Attorney General Eric Holder, alerted The Associated Press in 2013 that it had secretly obtained two months of phone records of reporters and editors in what the news cooperative's top executive called a "massive and unprecedented intrusion" into newsgathering activities. "I won't let that happen", Biden said at the time. "I think he's saying the standards have to be higher".

The latest revelation came Wednesday when The Times said it had learned that investigators previous year secretly obtained records for four reporters during a almost four-month period in 2017.

After those disclosures, Biden told a reporter he would not allow the Justice Department to persist in obtaining reporter phone records.

The records, which were from a four-month period in 2017, were seized in 2020 during an investigation into a leak, The Times reported. The department said the reporters are neither subjects nor targets of the investigation, but did not reveal which leak was under investigation.

The four reporters shared a byline on an April 2017 story that detailed the FBI's decision-making in the final stages of the Hillary Clinton email investigation.

The newspaper said the timing of the seized records and the reporters involved in the investigation suggest that the leak probe involved an April 22, 2017, Times report about former FBI Director James Comey's handling of different investigations during the 2016 election. His unusual July 2016 news conference, held at the Federal Bureau of Investigation and without Lynch or other leaders, marked an extraordinary departure from protocol.

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The Washington Post disclosed last month that the Justice Department had previous year obtained phone records belonging to three of its journalists who covered the investigation into 2016 Russian election interference and CNN later revealed that the department had seized phone records of its Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr.

Jeff Sessions, who served as Trump's first attorney general, announced in 2017 an aggressive government crackdown on leaks.

Psaki on Thursday said Trump administration officials had "abused their power" and that Biden was looking to turn the page.

The battle was over an effort by the Justice Department to seize email logs from Google, which operates the Times's email system and had resisted the effort to obtain the information, the report said.

But the department's ability to obtain those records under certain circumstances remained intact.

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