The United States Department of Justice secretly obtained, during the Donald Trump administration , the telephone records of four journalists from The New York Times as part of an investigation into the leakage of classified information to those reporters.
The news, advanced this Wednesday night by the New York newspaper, joins others published in recent days about spying on journalists from The Washington Post and CNN in order to uncover their sources.
Specifically, the Department of Justice obtained the telephone records of Matt Apuzzo, Adam Goldman, Eric Lichtblau and Michael S. Schmidt for the first four months of 2017 (between January 14 and April 30). He also obtained a court order to seize email records – not their content – although that data was not seized in the end.
The Department itself informed journalists affected by this controversial action by the previous Government on Wednesday, which jeopardizes the trust of confidential sources. The rest of the spied reporters were also tipped off by the department weeks ago. According to spokesman Anthony Coley, in a statement, the interventions took place between 2019 and 2020.
When the first espionage actions were known, the current president, Joe Biden, pointed out that this type of behavior “is simply wrong” and assured that he will not allow them to take place under his Administration.
The director of The New York Times , Dean Baquet, warned this Wednesday that this espionage “seriously undermines freedom of the press” and “threatens to silence the sources” on which a newspaper depends to inform the public “about what the Government is doing ”.
In the case of the Post, the monitored journalists had been investigating Russian interference in the 2016 presidential elections. Justice has not specified in the latter case which article motivated the controversial measure, but the Times believes that, in their case, it has something to do with it. with one of April 22, 2017, signed by the four spied journalists, which dealt with how the then director of the FBI, James Comey, handled investigations into the candidate’s use of a private mail server during the election campaign Democrat, Hillary Clinton, when she was Secretary of State with Barack Obama.
Comey, who would eventually become an enemy to Trump, had decided to announce in July 2016 that he recommended not to prosecute Clinton. The Times article cited a document, allegedly obtained by Russian pirates and whose existence was classified, in which a Democratic position was confident that the then attorney general, Loretta Lynch, of the Barack Obama administration, would not impute Clinton.
Comey, according to the newspaper, feared that if Lynch announced the decision not to indict Clinton and that document was leaked, he would call into question the independence of his investigations.
The Trump Administration already warned at the beginning of its journey that it intended to investigate leaks to the press, an intention that sparked sparks in one of the countries with the greatest protection of press freedom, included in the First Amendment of the Constitution and reaffirmed as a sacrosanct right in 1971 after the publication by The New York Times of the famous Pentagon Papers, which contained confidential information about the Vietnam War.
The justice then established, however, that the leakage of classified material should be condemned, although not its publication, as it was shown that it was in the public interest.
In May 2017, the White House issued a statement in which it promised to prosecute “with the full force of the law” those who leak classified information. It responded in this way to the publication in The New York Times of the details about the device used in the attack in Manchester thanks to data provided by British intelligence to US espionage agencies.