Donald Trump’s Department of Justice apparently broke from regulations enacted during the Obama administration and seized phone and email records from a reporter that currently works for the New York Times.
According to Times reporting on Thursday, “Federal law enforcement officials secretly seized years’ worth of a New York Times reporter’s phone and email records this year in an investigation of classified information leaks.”
The report added: “It was the first known instance of the Justice Department going after a reporter’s data under President Trump.”
The Times notes: “A prosecutor notified [New York Times Reporter Ali Watkins] on Feb. 13 that the Justice Department had years of customer records and subscriber information from telecommunications companies, including Google and Verizon, for two email accounts and a phone number of hers.”
In an appearance on the Rachel Maddow Show, MSNBC Justice and Security Analyst Matthew Miller said that the move appears to fly in the face of protections put in place under the previous administration.
— PoliticusUSA (@politicususa) June 8, 2018
Miller explained how the actions of Trump’s DOJ represent a departure from the Obama era (no surprise):
Under Eric Holder, who was then the attorney general, the department recognized that basically they had gone too far and put in place a series of regulations that are supposed to prevent this from happening without the Justice Department going to the media organization and trying to negotiate some sort of accommodation in advance. And it is obvious that that didn’t happen in this case. What’s supposed to happen under these new regulations is the Justice Department, before it subpoenas a reporter’s information, because this is important, this is different from subpoenaing a reporter’s testimony. The reporter doesn’t know if you’ve gone and gotten their e-mails or gone and gotten their phone records. They have no ability to go to court to try to block it. The Justice Department under Holder put in place new regulations that would allow for some kind of negotiation between the media outlet and the Justice Department and give the media outlet the opportunity to go to court to try to seek — to try to block the Justice Department from seizing these records. It appeared that in this case, D.O.J. did not do that, they did not follow those regulations.
You will see people arguing the Obama administration did this too. That’s true – to @adamgoldmanNYT in fact. But @EricHolder also then recognized DOJ had gone too far and put in place regulations to prevent this from happening again. Seems they were ignored here. https://t.co/LGkYogxysr
— Matthew Miller (@matthewamiller) June 8, 2018
The First Amendment is at risk under Trump
In addition to breaking from another policy enacted in the Obama era, the move by the Trump Justice Department raises serious First Amendment questions.
Previous administrations have, indeed, taken steps against the press to try to prevent leaks. This isn’t the first example of that. But given the secrecy surrounding this surveillance and Trump’s repeated attacks on the free press throughout his political career, the move takes on added significance
Donald Trump, who has called the press “the enemy of the American people,” just escalated his war on the First Amendment.
Sean Colarossi currently resides in Cleveland, Ohio. He earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in Journalism from the University of Massachusetts Amherst and was an organizing fellow for both of President Obama’s presidential campaigns. He also worked with Planned Parenthood as an Affordable Care Act Outreach Organizer in 2014, helping northeast Ohio residents obtain health insurance coverage.