The news comes less than two weeks after The Washington Post reported Trump’s Justice Department secretly got three Post reporters’ phone records and tried to get their email logs. The move was in an apparent bid to uncover the sources for a story in 2017 on a federal investigation into alleged links between Russia and the then-president’s campaign.
“This is a big story that just got bigger,” Bruce Brown, the executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, said in a statement. “That a journalist from another news organization had communications records seized by the Trump Justice Department suggests that the last administration’s efforts to intrude into reporter-source relationships and chill newsgathering is more sweeping than we originally thought.”
Brown called on the Justice Department to give a “detailed explanation” of what happened and why, and how “it plans to strengthen protections for the free flow of information to the public.” Coley told POLITICO that department leaders are convening with reporters “soon” to “hear their concerns” and “further convey Attorney General [Merrick] Garland’s staunch support of and commitment to a free and independent press.”
CNN President Jeff Zucker criticized the Justice Department’s actions.
“CNN strongly condemns the secret collection of any aspect of a journalist’s correspondence, which is clearly protected by the First Amendment,” Zucker said.
The Post’s story on Russia, which indicated then-Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak had said he discussed Russia-related topics with Jeff Sessions, a Trump campaign adviser at the time, drew the ire of Trump in the early months of his term. Two weeks after the story, Sessions — who at that time was attorney general — announced a crackdown on a supposed “culture of leaks.”
A Justice Department spokesperson, Marc Raimondi, said that the goal of the investigation involving Post reporters wasn’t to prosecute reporters.
“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,” Raimondi said.
CNN said it was unclear when the investigation involving Starr began, whether it was under Sessions or Attorney General William Barr and what the Trump administration might have been searching for.
Josh Gerstein contributed to this report.