Gag Order Lifted On Yet Another Trump DOJ Leak Investigation That Targeted Journalists

from the serving-the-president-is-more-important-than-serving-the-people-apparently dept

Another leak investigation that involves the DOJ going after journalists' communications has been revealed. This would be the third time since Biden took office that subpoenas targeting journalists have had their gag orders removed, allowing the public to see what the DOJ was up to during Trump's unceremonious reign as president.

The previous revelations involved journalists employed by the Washington Post and CNN. This one targets one of Trump's favorite media punching bags, the "failing" New York Times. This investigation dates all the way back to James Comey's last months as the head of the FBI, a position he was ousted from when he failed to show Trump the required amount of obeisance.

The letter this week disclosing the seizure of phone records involving the Times reporters — Matt Apuzzo, Adam Goldman, Eric Lichtblau and Michael S. Schmidt — had hinted at the existence of the separate fight over data that would show whom they had been in contact with over email.

[...]

The Justice Department has not said what leak it was investigating, but the identity of the four reporters who were targeted and the date range of the communications sought strongly suggested that it centered on classified information in an April 2017 article about how James B. Comey Jr., the former F.B.I. director, handled politically charged investigations during the 2016 presidential campaign.

The article not specifically mentioned in the government's subpoena dealt with an email or memo not found in the Clinton email dump released by the State Department and available to search at Wikileaks -- one that said then-AG Loretta Lynch would throttle the investigation into Hillary Clinton's private email server. Comey, however, reopened that investigation shortly before the election, something that may have played a part in Trump's election win.

This memo, however, most likely prompted Comey to take the case public back in 2016. Comey held a press conference announcing the results of the investigation -- one that did not include criminal charges for Clinton. This is generally the sort of thing the DOJ and FBI rarely do, especially when the target of an investigation is a presidential candidate. Comey shrugged off appearances of politically-motivated impropriety twice, but still failed to satisfy his new boss' desire to be surrounded by loyalists.

The Biden Administration has placed Merrick Garland in charge of the DOJ and appears to be doing some house cleaning. Questionable investigative efforts involving leaks and journalists have been stripped of their gag orders and made public. But there's a delay here that doesn't square with the new administration's statement that it respects the First Amendment and has no interest in targeting journalists. This one rolled on for a few months after Biden's election, allowing the DOJ to continue pursuing these journalists' communications while swearing their supervisors to secrecy.

While the Trump administration never informed The Times about the effort, the Biden administration continued waging the fight this year, telling a handful of top Times executives about it but imposing a gag order to shield it from public view, said the lawyer, David McCraw, who called the move unprecedented.

The gag order prevented the executives from disclosing the government’s efforts to seize the records even to the executive editor, Dean Baquet, and other newsroom leaders.

Mr. McCraw said Friday that a federal court had lifted the order, which had been in effect since March 3, freeing him to reveal what had happened.

The DOJ was ultimately unable to obtain the email records it requested from Google. The company fought the subpoena, refusing to hand over the requested information. And with other DOJ officials recommending the case be closed because it was unlikely to result in criminal charges, the DOJ abandoned this effort and finally allowed the gag order to be lifted.

But even the lifting of the gag order was inexplicably delayed. The DOJ claimed in January that any notification would jeopardize the investigation and give targets an opportunity to destroy evidence. And in March, the DOJ continued to press for secrecy, asking a judge for permission to tell NYT's legal team but refusing to allow the targeted journalists to be notified about the government's desire to collect their email records.

While it's good to see the new DOJ express its support of journalists and the First Amendment, we need to remember Biden served two terms under Barack Obama -- a president who set records for leak investigations and prosecuted whistleblowers. Cleaning up Trump and Barr's mess is the right thing to do but the DOJ will continue to serve whoever's in charge and is always willing to wave aside constitutional concerns if it's politically expedient to do so.

Hide this

Thank you for reading this Techdirt post. With so many things competing for everyone’s attention these days, we really appreciate you giving us your time. We work hard every day to put quality content out there for our community.

Techdirt is one of the few remaining truly independent media outlets. We do not have a giant corporation behind us, and we rely heavily on our community to support us, in an age when advertisers are increasingly uninterested in sponsoring small, independent sites — especially a site like ours that is unwilling to pull punches in its reporting and analysis.

While other websites have resorted to paywalls, registration requirements, and increasingly annoying/intrusive advertising, we have always kept Techdirt open and available to anyone. But in order to continue doing so, we need your support. We offer a variety of ways for our readers to support us, from direct donations to special subscriptions and cool merchandise — and every little bit helps. Thank you.

–The Techdirt Team

Filed Under: adam goldman, doj, emails, eric lichtblau, fbi, gag order, james comey, journalism, leaks, matt apuzzo, merrick garland, michael schmidt, records requests, whistleblowing


Reader Comments

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Thread


  • icon
    Shel10 (profile), 7 Jun 2021 @ 4:43pm

    DOJ & Journalists

    If Journalists are publishing confidential information then they shouldn't be protected. The person leaking the information is committing a crime and the Journalist is helping in the commission of a crime. Nothing in our laws or the constitution provides protection from prosecution.

    While Biden was VP, the DOJ sent journalists to jail for not revealing sources.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Rocky, 8 Jun 2021 @ 12:25am

      Re: DOJ & Journalists

      I'll call your dishonest argument and raise it with Deep Throat and Watergate.

      It's almost like you think it's okay for the government to hide its misdeeds and punish those who expose them. So how do you feel about whistleblowers then? Hmm?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Kristy Roper (profile), 9 Jun 2021 @ 9:30am

    Re;

    Not 100% sure about that, it might just be business as usual. The government does not want to set precedent that they are not allowed to keep secrets.

    Link

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here



Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter




Comment Options:

  • Use markdown. Use plain text.
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)

Close

Add A Reply

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here



Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter




Comment Options:

  • Use markdown. Use plain text.
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)

Follow Techdirt
Special Affiliate Offer

Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Techdirt Insider Chat
Recent Stories
.

This site, like most other sites on the web, uses cookies. For more information, see our privacy policy. Got it
Close

Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.