from the you're-looking-that-the-wrong-end-of-the-link,-dumbasses dept
It certainly appears the new Attorney General is doing some house cleaning. A pretty steady drip of disclosures have made their way into the public sphere about the DOJ’s activities while headed by Bill Barr and overseen by the Trump White House.
A couple of weeks ago it was disclosed that the DOJ had obtained three Washington Post journalists’ phone records while investigating leaks related to Russian interference in the 2016 election. More recently, a case involving a Twitter account targeted by a Devin Nunes defamation lawsuit was unsealed, showing the DOJ attempted to force the social media service to turn over identifying info related to the NunesAlt account.
And now there’s this: another journalist targeted by the DOJ — again supposedly to root out the source of White House leaks.
The Justice Department informed CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr, in a May 13 letter, that prosecutors had obtained her phone and email records covering two months, between June 1, 2017 to July 31, 2017. The letter listed phone numbers for Starr’s Pentagon extension, the CNN Pentagon booth phone number and her home and cell phones, as well as Starr’s work and personal email accounts.
The DOJ is well aware this sort of thing looks bad. But that hasn’t stopped it from targeting journalists with disturbing frequency. And it’s not just a Trump/Barr thing. The Obama Administration did plenty of leak-hunting and it occasionally involved acquiring journalists’ communications records. The DOJ slightly dialed back its enthusiasm for targeting journalists briefly after suffering a few PR black eyes, but the election of Trump brought a newfound enthusiasm for viewing journalists as enemies — something both of Trump’s Attorney Generals supported.
The frequency of these disclosures — three in three weeks — suggests the DOJ, under AG Merrick Garland, is taking a very close look at the actions of his predecessors and, hopefully, trying to undo some of the damage. At the very least, it looks like the application of some much-needed sunlight — the sort of thing that’s often useful in deterring future abuses.
The DOJ, however, is still using the same excuse for its worrying excursion across First Amendment lines. According to its spokespeople, there’s really nothing wrong with using this investigatory tactic.
A Justice Department official confirmed that Starr was never the target of any investigation.
Oh, ok. It’s fine that journalists’ sources were targeted, not the journalists themselves. As if that doesn’t place journalists in difficult positions and the government’s apparent willingness to obtain communication records doesn’t make it less likely journalists will be handed sensitive documents. I mean, that’s obviously the end goal of actions like these, but it doesn’t make them any more Constitutionally-sound or any less odious.
Fortunately, it appears the new DOJ boss isn’t like the old bosses (Bill Barr, Jeff Sessions). This DOJ appears more willing to steer clear of potential controversy and less likely to view journalists as adversaries.
Anthony Coley, DOJ’s director of public affairs and a senior advisor to Attorney General Merrick Garland, said in a statement to CNN that the decision to use the legal process to obtain Starr’s communications was approved in 2020, during the Trump administration.
“Department leadership will soon meet with reporters to hear their concerns about recent notices and further convey Attorney General Garland’s staunch support of and commitment to a free and independent press,” Coley said.
The press hasn’t seen much DOJ or Presidential support over the past four years, so this is a welcome improvement. Hopefully, it’s sincere and not just a one-time patch job meant to unruffle feathers at major news corporations before proceeding with business as usual.