(Bloomberg) — The Trump administration’s Justice Department got telephone records and attempted to get the email records of three Washington Post reporters who were looking into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, the newspaper reported on Friday.
The three reporters, Ellen Nakashima, Greg Miller and Adam Entous, who now works for the New Yorker, were informed of the inquiry earlier this week in letters from the department, the Post said, adding that the records were from calls made on work, home and mobile phones from April 15 to July 31, 2017.
The letters, according to the Post, did not say when the department approved the move to get the records, but a department spokesman told the paper that it occurred last year, when William Barr was attorney general. The letters also did not say why the Justice Department sought the records.
But in August 2017, then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions said he was stepping up efforts to investigate and prosecute leaks of classified information with help from a new counterintelligence unit at the FBI, working to address a chief concern of then-President Donald Trump.
Sessions, who was a frequent target of Trump’s mockery for much of his tenure, spoke at a previously-planned event, but he pointed out that it took place a day after the Post had published transcripts of phone conversations between Trump and the leaders of Australia and Mexico that January.
“I strongly agree with the president and condemn in the strongest terms the staggering number of leaks undermining the ability of our government to protect this country,” Sessions said then.
The Post said the three reporters had worked on a July 2017 article about reports to Moscow by Russian’s then-ambassador Sergey Kislyak regarding his encounters with Sessions in 2016.
The phone records would have shown calls made and received but not the content of conversations, the Post said. Email records, which the department did not get, would have listed senders and receivers of messages, not the actual messages.
The Justice Department said that regulations had been followed in the matter.
“While rare, the 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 the unauthorized disclosure of classified information,” Marc Raimondi, a department spokesman said in a statement on Friday evening.
“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,” Raimondi added.