DOJ Tells Ron Wyden About The Times It Has Collected Journalists' Communications; Leaves Some Facts Out

from the FILE-DELIBERATELY-NOT-FOUND dept

The Trump Administration -- much like the administration before it -- has declared war on leakers. The government prefers to selectively leak info using anonymous sources, but only the sort of leaks that serve its political/PR purposes. Everything else -- no matter how much the leaked info serves to better inform the public -- is the target of investigations and prosecutions.

Jeff Sessions claims this administration has opened three times as many leak investigations as Obama's. If so, it will rack up unprecedented numbers. Both the Obama administration and the Trump administration have decided it's OK to target journalists' communications to hunt down leakers, an act that strikes at the very heart of the First Amendment.

An indictment against James Wolfe, a longtime Senate Intelligence Committee advisor, was put together by harvesting emails and other private communications between Wolfe and various reporters. This document confirmed what was already suspected by Ron Wyden, who demanded late last year the DOJ turn over information on its targeting of journalists' communications.

As Zoe Tillman reports for Buzzfeed, the DOJ has delivered a response to Wyden's, but it's obviously still withholding information.

The department’s response letter dated March 5, 2018, obtained by BuzzFeed News, listed instances from “January 2012 to the present.” Not included: the seizure of New York Times reporter Ali Watkins’ email and phone records.

The department’s letter to Wyden predated the revelation last month that investigators had seized Watkins’ records as part of an investigation into former Senate Intelligence Committee staffer James Wolfe. According to the Times, Watkins, a former BuzzFeed News reporter, learned in February via a letter from the Justice Department that her records had been seized — appearing to put her case within the timeframe identified by the Justice Department in its March letter to Wyden.

This is a glaring omission by the DOJ. It suggests the agency is deliberately covering up some of its forays into First Amendment territory. This letter was delivered to Wyden in early March, a few months prior to the indictment showing the DOJ had gone after more journalists' communications. None of those are listed in this response.

It could be the DOJ excluded Watkins from its response because it (supposedly) did not target her communications. Even if so, it omitted the other journalists caught up in the investigation of Wolfe, who very definitely appear to have had their communications seized.

If the DOJ is unwilling to correct the record, or at least explain why it excluded the Wolfe investigation from this report, this can only be seen as a bad faith response. It may have confirmed its surveillance of AP journalists that resulted in the greater restrictions on investigations involving journalists put into place by the last Attorney General, but if it can't honestly discuss more recent targeting of press members, there's no reason to believe it hasn't decided to ignore its self-imposed restrictions.

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Filed Under: ali watkins, doj, first amendment, freedom of the press, journalist's communications, journalists, ron wyden


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  1. icon
    Uriel-238 (profile), 16 Jul 2018 @ 9:44am

    We should give it a name...

    Disclosure theater or sunlight theater or transparency theater maybe even FOIA Theater: The act of pretending to offer documents or data in order to say disclosure obligations have been fulfilled, even when plenty of activities and documents remain in the dark.


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