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Federal government seized phone records of Washington Post reporters in leak probe

Toll statements usually show which numbers a reporter called or received calls from and how long the call was connected, but do not include information about the content of the conversations.

The Post said reporters – Ellen Nakashima, Greg Miller and former Post reporter Adam Entous – received letters on May 3 informing them that the government had obtained their appeals from April 15, 2017 to July 31, 2017. .

Post editor Cameron Barr said in a statement the paper was confused by the tactics.

“We are deeply troubled by this use of government power to seek access to journalists’ communications,” Barr said. “The Department of Justice should immediately make clear the reasons for this intrusion into the activities of journalists doing their job, an activity protected by the First Amendment.”

The Post’s story was part of a string of leaks that infuriated President Donald Trump during his first months in office. Just two weeks after reporting on Kislyak and Sessions, Sessions announced a major crackdown on what it called a “culture of leaks”. The attorney general also announced that he was creating an FBI unit dedicated solely to unlawful disclosure of classified information in the media and said the ministry was reviewing its subpoenas policy to obtain information. with or on journalists. No policy changes were subsequently announced.

Justice Ministry spokesman Marc Raimondi declined to discuss details of the action taken towards the post or to say specifically who was under investigation, but stressed that the objective was was not to prosecute reporters.

“Although rare, the Department follows the procedures set out in its Media Guidelines policy when seeking a legal process to obtain toll bills and emails without content from members of the media as part of a criminal investigation. on unauthorized disclosure of classified information, ”said Raimondi. “The targets of these investigations are not the recipients of the news media, but rather those who have access to the national defense information that provided it to the media and therefore failed to protect it as legally required.”

The Post said the notices received indicated that investigators had been granted permission to access information on accounts to which reporters sent or received emails, but that no such data had been received by the government. A Post spokesperson declined to say why or whether the newspaper was aware of the government investigation before this week.

However, an official confirmed that the orders were only obtained last year. This increases the likelihood that emails several years old were automatically or manually deleted by the time investigators were granted permission to search the data.

It seems unlikely that the Post would have agreed to forward the email data without a legal battle. It is not known whether any of the newspaper’s service providers would have had access to the information.

Under guidelines revised by Attorney General Eric Holder in 2013 following controversies over the department’s use of legal tools to snoop on journalists, the department is required to notify journalists of such searches within 45 days. following obtaining the files.

The Attorney General can extend this period up to 90 days in an emergency, but additional delays are not allowed.

The publication of the notices earlier this week suggests that the ministry did not receive the data until February of this year or later, after the Biden administration took office.

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