WASHINGTON (AP) – The Trump administration’s Justice Department secretly obtained phone records from a CNN correspondent for 2017, the network said Thursday, as it revealed the existence of another apparent leak investigation aimed at identifying a journalist’s sources .
The revelation comes two weeks after the Washington Post announced that the Justice Department had confiscated phone records of three of its journalists covering the Russia investigation last year.
CNN said the Justice Department informed Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr in a May 13 letter that it had phone and email recordings for a two-month period between June 1 and July 31, 2017 have received.
“CNN strongly condemns the secret collection of aspects of a journalist’s correspondence that are clearly protected by the first amendment,” said CNN President Jeff Zucker in a statement released by the network. “We request an immediate meeting with the Justice Department for an explanation.”
The Justice Department confirmed that the recordings were officially obtained last year, but did not reveal anything else about the investigation and what story it might relate to. CNN said that during the two-month period listed in the letter, Starr’s reports included stories about Syria and Afghanistan, as well as coverage of U.S. military options in North Korea offered to President Donald Trump.
“The records in question are for 2017 and the legal process to obtain these records was approved in 2020,” Justice Department spokesman Anthony Coley said in a statement. “Senior management will be meeting with reporters soon to hear their concerns about the recent announcements and to convey Attorney General (Merrick) Garland’s firm support and commitment to a free and independent press.”
The letter indicated that the government had requested records of Starr’s Pentagon phone extension, the CNN Pentagon booth phone number, and her home and cell phone records. The government also said it received “non-substantive information” from its emails, which included information about the senders and recipients, but not the actual content of the communications.
The Justice Department, headed by former Attorney General Eric Holder, announced revised guidelines for obtaining records from the news media during criminal leak investigations. It removed language that news organizations said was ambiguous and required additional levels of verification before a journalist could be summoned.
The updated policy was in response to outrage from news organizations over the Obama administration’s tactics, which were viewed as overly aggressive and hostile to news-gathering.
Bruce Brown, the executive director of the Reporters’ Committee on Freedom of the Press, said Thursday that the seizure of phone records was a “big story” that had just gotten bigger.
“The fact that a journalist from another news organization had seized communications records from the Trump Department of Justice suggests that the recent administration’s efforts to break into reporter-source relationships and gather news are wider than originally thought,” Brown said.
He called on the Justice Department to explain exactly what happened and “how it intends to strengthen the protection for the free flow of information to the public”.