Justice Department Secretly Accessed Reporter's Records To Find Leaker

The New York Times says the Justice Department seized years' worth of its reporter’s phone and email records.

U.S. Attorney General

In May, while denying the existence of White House leakers, President Donald Trump vowed to hunt down employees constantly sharing information with the press.

And it seems the Trump administration is doing good on that promise as The New York Times just revealed the Justice Department seized years' worth of records of one of its reporters as part of an investigation into a leak of classified information.

The Times' national security reporter, Ali Watkins, learned in February federal investigators had obtained years of records for at least two email accounts, including one from when she was an undergraduate, and a phone number that belonged to her. They accessed information from the time she worked for BuzzFeed and Politico, before she joined the Times in 2017.

While the records do not include the content of the messages themselves, they reportedly contain the names of the people Watkins contacted and, possibly, from where.

Watkins’ records was seized as part of an investigation if involving James A. Wolfe, 57, the Senate Intelligence Committee’s former director of security, and if he leaked classified information to the press.

The now retired senator and Watkins were involved in a three-year romantic relationship. However, the reporter has said Wolfe was never a source of government information.   

On June 7, Wolfe was indicted on three counts of making false statements while he served on the committee.

This was the first known instance of the Justice Department going after a reporter’s personal data under the Trump administration.

"Any time that a journalist’s ability to do their job is threatened in a manner such as this, it’s a major concern," Brad Dayspring, a Politico spokesman, said in a statement, according to the Washington Post.

Ben Smith, the editor in chief of BuzzFeed News, also expressed his concern: “We’re deeply troubled by what looks like a case of law enforcement interfering with a reporter’s constitutional right to gather information about her own government."

Obviously, the DOJ's secret access to Watkins' records is troubling for press freedom, which is already under attack, thanks to Trump and his constant labeling of "fake news" of any or all media critical of him. But, as it turns out, the Trump administration is only continuing the use of "aggressive tactics employed under President Barack Obama."

Banner / Thumbnail : Wikimedia Commons / U.S. government

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