The Trump Administration Just Ramped Up Its Attack on the Media By Seizing a NYT Reporter's Phone and Email Records
New York Times reporter Ali Watkins had her phone and email records seized as part of a Justice Department investigation into leaks, the paper revealed Thursday night. This aggressive move builds on President Donald Trump's hostile stance toward the press, though President Barack Obama's administration was also extensively criticized for its dogged pursuit of leak investigations and its heavy-handed tactics to get information from journalists.
“Freedom of the press is a cornerstone of democracy, and communications between journalists and their sources demand protection,” said Times spokeswoman Eileen Murphy said of the incident.
Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions have both repeatedly emphasized the need to crack down on leaks of classified information.
The seizure of Watkins' records appears to be connected to the investigation of James Wolfe, who previously serve as the Senate Intelligence Committee’s director of security. Watkins revealed to the Times that she had a personal relationship with Wolfe, but she said that she did not use him as a source.
The content of the Watkins' messages and calls were not obtained by investigators, only customer data and subscriber information held by the companies, the Times reported.
The Times notes that while the Justice Department has specific procedures in place for justifying the seizure of materials from members of the media, it is not clear whether they have been followed in this case.
BuzzFeed Editor-in-Chief Ben Smith noted that Watkins' time as a reporter for his outlet was covered by the records seized.
"This story concerns a reporter's work @BuzzFeedNews," he said on Twitter. "We are deeply troubled by what looks like a case of law enforcement interfering with a reporter’s constitutional right to gather information about her own government."