The Justice Department under both Donald Trump and Joe Biden went to court to try and seize the emails of four New York Times reporters.
They did so over heavy coverage of former FBI director James Comey and his actions in the run-up to the 2016 election, and even obtained a gag order to try and hide their efforts from the public.
Donald Trump’s administration started the ball rolling – although attempts to obtain the emails continued for three months of the Biden presidency, with the Biden team even putting a gag order on the paper, preventing it from disclosing the request.
That was lifted on Friday, allowing the paper to reveal what had happened.
The department tried to obtain records from the four reporters – Matt Apuzzo, Adam Goldman, Eric Lichtblau and Michael S. Schmidt – who had all worked on an April 2017 investigation into Comey and the election.
The request for the emails was made to Google, which operates The Times’s email system. Google then informed the paper.
The request to Google was made on January 5, with only 15 days left of the Trump presidency.
The New York Times revealed on Friday that four of their reporters were targeted by the Justice Department, which went to court to try and force Google to hand over their email records. Google pushed back, and ultimately the emails were never handed over, but the move has been described as an assault on the First Amendment
Michael Schmidt (left) and Adam Goldman (right) were targeted by the Justice Department
Matt Apuzzo (left) and Eric Lichtblau were also identified by the Justice Department
Prosecutors in the office of the United States attorney in Washington had obtained a sealed court order from a magistrate judge, demanding that Google hand over the records in secret. Google refused, and the emails were never obtained.
On March 3, by now under the Biden administration, the Justice Department placed a gag order on the paper.
The gag order was lifted on Friday.
‘Clearly, Google did the right thing, but it should never have come to this,’ said Dean Baquet, executive editor of The New York Times.
‘The Justice Department relentlessly pursued the identity of sources for coverage that was clearly in the public interest in the final 15 days of the Trump administration.
‘And the Biden administration continued to pursue it.’
Baquet said that the move ‘profoundly undermines press freedom.’
The Justice Department under both Trump and Biden pursued the emails of the four reporters
News of the Justice Department’s efforts to obtain journalists’ sources on email came two days after the Justice Department informed the four reporters that the Trump administration, hunting for their sources, had in 2020 secretly seized months of their phone records from early 2017.
That notification followed similar disclosures in recent weeks about seizing communications records of reporters at CNN and The Washington Post.
A spokesman for the Justice Department insisted that the effort was a legacy of the Trump era, never seriously pursued under Biden.
Anthony Coley, a Justice Department spokesman, noted that ‘on multiple occasions in recent months,’ the Biden-era department had moved to delay enforcement of the order.
They said the Justice Department then ‘voluntarily moved to withdraw the order before any records were produced.’
He added: ‘The department strongly values a free and independent press, and is committed to upholding the First Amendment.’
However, the fact remained that the Biden Justice Department maintained their push for three months – and even brought in the gag order.
Last month, Biden said he would not permit the Justice Department during his administration to seize communications logs that could reveal reporters’ sources.
He called the practice ‘simply, simply wrong.’