Amid its ongoing war on this country’s free press, Trump’s Department of Justice has taken the egregious step of secretly seizing a year’s worth of phone and e-mail records of a New York Times reporter.
In its first seizure of the Trump era, the DoJ put its incendiary rhetoric into practice, targeting the Times’ Ali Watkins. Trump has been outspoken in his desire to seek criminal charges against those who leak classified or embarrassing secrets and even more vocal with his disdain for the nation’s premiere newspaper.
The Times’ spokeswoman Eileen Murphy slammed the move, claiming that it is an intrusion on First Amendment freedoms. “Freedom of the press is a cornerstone of democracy, and communications between journalists and their sources demand protection,” said Murphy.
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Per The New York Times:
A prosecutor notified Ms. Watkins on Feb. 13 that the Justice Department had years of customer records and subscriber information from telecommunications companies, including Google and Verizon, for two email accounts and a phone number of hers. Investigators did not obtain the content of the messages themselves. The Times learned on Thursday of the letter, which came from the national security division of the United States attorney’s office in Washington.
The records covered years’ worth of Ms. Watkins’s communications before she joined The Times in late 2017 to cover federal law enforcement. During a seven-month period last year for which prosecutors sought additional phone records, she worked for Buzzfeed News and then Politico reporting on national security.
Most disconcerting, however, is the fact that it is currently unclear whether the Justice Department followed its own regulations before acquiring Watkins’ personal data. Per rules written during the Obama era:
Under Justice Department regulations, investigators must clear additional hurdles before they can seek business records that could reveal a reporter’s confidential sources, such as phone and email records. In particular, the rules require the government to have “made all reasonable attempts to obtain the information from alternative, non-media sources” before investigators may target a reporter’s information.
In addition, the rules generally require the Justice Department to notify reporters first to allow them to negotiate over the scope of their demand for information and potentially challenge it in court. The rules permit the attorney general to make an exception to that practice if he “determines that, for compelling reasons, such negotiations would pose a clear and substantial threat to the integrity of the investigation, risk grave harm to national security, or present an imminent risk of death or serious bodily harm.”
It is unclear whether these guidelines were followed, as Watkins was not notified before the information was seized.
While this administration continues to bill itself as a defender of the rule of law, its glaring attack on the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution is proof that its words are nothing more than empty rhetoric.