Attempt to Seize Post Reporters’ Email Data Came Day Before Barr Left Office

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Politics|Attempt to Seize Post Reporters’ Email Data Came Day Before Barr Left Office

Newly unsealed tribunal files shed much airy connected a contentious leak investigation.

A petition  for Washington Post reporters’ email records was 1  of Attorney General William P. Barr’s last  acts successful  office.
Credit...Pool photograph by Michael Reynolds

Katie BennerCharlie Savage

July 13, 2021, 9:38 p.m. ET

WASHINGTON — The Justice Department sought the email records of 3 Washington Post reporters the time earlier William P. Barr stepped down arsenic lawyer wide successful a last-ditch effort to place who had told the paper astir conversations betwixt Trump run officials and the Russian ambassador, newly unsealed tribunal documents show.

The Dec. 22 request, 1 of Mr. Barr’s past acts successful office, was portion of a large escalation by the Trump medication during its last weeks successful powerfulness of a yearslong run to ace down connected leaks of classified accusation to the quality media. The Trump Justice Department besides sought New York Times reporters’ records successful that period.

The Biden Justice Department had disclosed the effort — which besides included seizing the reporters’ telephone records — past month, starring to the unsealing of the Post docket. The files shed caller airy connected what happened, including listing the time prosecutors applied for the email records bid and identifying 3 Post articles that were the taxable of a leak investigation.

Those articles, identified lone by their dates of publication, seemingly included one successful May 2017 that reported that President Donald J. Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, had discussed with Russia’s ambassador, Sergey I. Kislyak, the anticipation of utilizing Russian diplomatic facilities arsenic a connection backmost transmission during the transition.

They besides included a June 2017 article astir the Obama administration’s struggles to woody with Russian predetermination interference the erstwhile year, and a July 2017 article reporting that Jeff Sessions, the lawyer wide astatine the time, had discussed run issues with Mr. Kislyak erstwhile Mr. Sessions was a legislator and a Trump run surrogate the erstwhile year.

All 3 articles were written by Adam Entous, Greg Miller and Ellen Nakashima, the reporters whose communications records investigators were seeking to secretly seize. While the Justice Department has disclosed that it did get their telephone logs — which bash not necessitate tribunal orders — it ne'er succeeded successful obtaining their email logs.

The 12-page exertion to the tribunal seeking the email records of the 3 reporters besides indicates that the Justice Department believed that idiosyncratic successful Congress mightiness person shared the details astir Mr. Kislyak’s conversations with the press.

The authorities said Congress requested entree to highly classified accusation successful 2017 arsenic portion of a legislature inquiry. The Post connected 2 occasions subsequently published “information that was contained wrong the classified materials that had been made disposable to prime legislature personnel,” the tribunal papers said.

The Times has antecedently reported that investigators focused connected Michael Bahar, past a unit subordinate connected the House Intelligence Committee, but ne'er recovered grounds proving their suspicions.

The caller accusation underscores however aggressively the Trump Justice Department was successful its pursuit of years-old leaks to the quality media. Mr. Trump had pushed apical officials to marque leak investigations a apical priority.

Since the disclosure of the seizures and attempted seizures of communications records of reporters — including astatine The Times, The Post and CNN — President Biden has declared that helium volition nary longer fto the Justice Department usage subpoenas and tribunal orders to get specified information successful hunts for confidential sources. Attorney General Merrick B. Garland is expected to nonstop a memo this week to each national prosecutors’ offices formally directing specified a ban.

The Justice Department’s inspector wide is looking into leak investigations that progressive efforts to get the records of reporters and members of Congress and their staff.

A Justice Department spokesperson declined to comment.

A magistrate justice this period unsealed astir of the docket from a abstracted leak investigation successful which prosecutors sought from Google the email logs of 4 Times reporters from 2017. A justice approved that bid connected Jan. 5, but arsenic successful the Post investigation, prosecutors ne'er obtained the email data.

Files amusement that Google did not respond to the archetypal tribunal order. Prosecutors went backmost to the institution successful aboriginal February — aft Mr. Biden took bureau — but Google said it would not crook implicit the information unless it were permitted to archer The Times, successful accordance with a contract.

The Justice Department allowed the institution to archer respective executives astatine the newspaper, but connected the information that they beryllium under gag order not to archer anyone else. The section yet dropped that effort and asked a justice to assistance the gag bid without obtaining immoderate files.

The Biden Justice Department, however, objected to making nationalist the Trump Justice Department’s archetypal exertion for the Times reporters’ emails. That exertion would amusement what prosecutors told a magistrate justice they were looking for — and wherefore it was indispensable for the inquiry, seemingly 1 whose beingness had already been reported, to stay secret, justifying gag orders. Whether that volition go nationalist remains taxable to aboriginal litigation.

An bid by a magistrate judge, Zia M. Faruqui, directing that the Washington Post-related files beryllium unsealed shows that the Biden Justice Department initially objected to unsealing the exertion successful that matter, too. But Judge Faruqui pressed for its disclosure, noting that the nationalist mostly has a close to spot specified materials from closed investigations.

In doing so, the justice colorfully invoked iconic scenes from 2 Harrison Ford blockbusters.

“A sealed substance is not generally, arsenic the authorities persists successful imagining, ‘nailed into a nondescript crate, stored heavy successful a sprawling, uncataloged warehouse,’” the justice wrote, quoting different tribunal sentiment that cited the last country of the 1981 movie “Raiders of the Lost Ark.”

“Rather, it is simply frozen successful carbonite, awaiting its eventual thawing,” Judge Faruqui added, citing the 1980 movie “The Empire Strikes Back.”

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