The administration of former US President Donald Trump secretly sought and obtained the 2017 phone and e-mail records of Barbara Starr, CNN's Pentagon correspondent, according to a report by CNN published on Thursday.
The Justice Department reportedly informed Starr on 13 May that prosecutors had obtained her records for two months, between 1 June, 2017, to 31 July, 2017. According to CNN, the letter featured phone numbers for Starr's Pentagon extension, the CNN Pentagon booth phone number, along with the reporter's home and cell phones and her work and personal email accounts.
CNN said in the report that the Justice Department did not clarify why Starr's records were surveilled.
The media network voiced its opposition to the move and referred to the First Amendment of the US Constitution that protects freedom of speech.
"CNN strongly condemns the secret collection of any aspect of a journalist's correspondence, which is clearly protected by the First Amendment," said CNN President Jeff Zucker. "We are asking for an immediate meeting with the Justice Department for an explanation."
Starr also took to Twitter to react to the report.
"Tomorrow. All of CNN will do what we do everyday around the world. The Pentagon Press Corps will do the same. We are not leaving, not stopping. We are ALL staying and reporting the news. If you need any reminder read the #FirstAmendment", she tweeted.
Tomorrow. All of CNN will do what we do everyday around the world. The Pentagon Press Corps will do the same. We are not leaving, not stopping. We are ALL staying and reporting the news. If you need any reminder read the #FirstAmendment https://t.co/rh8HU9HFM2— Barbara Starr (@barbarastarrcnn) May 20, 2021
This is the third time reports have emerged noting that the Trump-era Justice Department seized journalists' records while investigating leaks from the president's administration.
Previously, The Washington Post reported that three journalists, Ellen Nakashima, Greg Miller, and Adam Entous, were notified by the DOJ that their records were obtained by the department for three months in 2017. According to CNN, in 2018, the department also revealed that a year earlier it had also obtained records of reporters from Buzzfeed, Politico and the New York Times, who worked on Russia-related stories.
“While rare, the (Justice) Department follows the established procedures within its media guidelines policy when seeking legal process to obtain telephone toll records and non-content email records from media members as part of a criminal investigation into unauthorized disclosure of classified information,” Justice Department spokesperson Marc Raimondi told the Washington Examiner in relation to the story. "The targets of these investigations are not the news media recipients but rather those with access to the national defense information who provided it to the media and thus failed to protect it as lawfully required.”
DOJ guidelines allow the department to seize journalists' records without letting them know, if there is a court order, and the move also must be approved by the US attorney general. In 2017, that position was held by Trump appointee William Barr.