Trump DOJ Investigated Internal Leaks By Obtaining Journalists' Phone Records
from the that's-not-how-this-is-supposed-to-be-done dept
Donald Trump liked to use the “Deep State” as a rhetorical punching bag. Whenever he stuck his foot in his mouth or found himself under investigation for abusing his powers, he claimed the “Deep State” just couldn’t handle having such a strong truth-teller in the Oval Office. But he apparently liked the “Deep State” enough to allow it to go after his personal enemies, even as he portrayed himself as a warrior against the excesses of federal power.
Trump’s primary enemy was the press. According to Trump, there was also a massive media conspiracy determined to oust him from power — one that was headed by “failing” mass media figureheads like the New York Times and the Washington Post. The latter was often conflated with Amazon — the apparent enemy of the United States Postal Service (until the USPS became an enemy by delivering mail-in votes). This wasn’t just Twitter posturing. Apparently, Trump (and the agencies under his control) believed the newspaper was a threat the government should neutralize by mobilizing the “Deep State” powers he repeatedly criticized.
Documents obtained by the Washington Post show the DOJ directly targeting journalists’ phone records in an apparent attempt to shield Trump from accusations of being BFFs with a foreign government’s officials during its attempt to sway an American election.
The Trump Justice Department secretly obtained Washington Post journalists’ phone records and tried to obtain their email records over reporting they did in the early months of the Trump administration on Russia’s role in the 2016 election, according to government letters and officials.
In three separate letters dated May 3 and addressed to Post reporters Ellen Nakashima and Greg Miller, and former Post reporter Adam Entous, the Justice Department wrote they were “hereby notified that pursuant to legal process the United States Department of Justice received toll records associated with the following telephone numbers for the period from April 15, 2017 to July 31, 2017.” The letters listed work, home or cellphone numbers covering that three-and-a-half-month period.
The DOJ has rules for targeting journalists. It generally agrees that it shouldn’t, but a lot of times it actually believes it should, despite the First Amendment implications. Journalists and their sources are granted a whole lot of Constitutional protection but sometimes the federal government prefers to serve its own interests. Sniffing out leakers and whistleblowers is one of those interests the government tends to elevate above Constitutional concerns.
Now that it’s being called out for its unconstitutional bullshit, the DOJ is getting pretty defensive about its meddling in First Amendment affairs. According to the DOJ, this incursion was a serious thing it would only do when it’s super-serious about something.
“While rare, the Department follows the established procedures within its media guidelines policy when seeking legal process to obtain telephone toll records and non-content email records from media members as part of a criminal investigation into unauthorized disclosure of classified information,” said Marc Raimondi, a spokesman for the Justice Department. “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.”
Well, if it’s an internal investigation, try to keep it internal. Nothing really justifies going after reporters because it’s easier or more efficient than targeting government employees who might be well-trained in subterfuge. If an investigation can’t be closed without using the First Amendment as a doormat, perhaps the investigation should be abandoned. There are more important things for the DOJ to do than seek out people who turned over information to journalists. There are plenty of people willing to turn things over to foreign adversaries and maybe the DOJ should consider limiting itself to investigating leaks that harm more than a president’s reputation.