Three current and former reporters for the Washington Post received an alarming notification this week, in the form of a May 3 letter from the Department of Justice that informed them their phone records had been secretly seized by the DOJ over reporting they'd done in the early days of the Trump administration. The paper reports that the letter to Ellen Nakashima and Greg Miller, both current reporters with the Post, and former Post reporter Adam Entous informed them that records for their work, cell, and home numbers had been acquired "for the period from April 15, 2017 to July 31, 2017." A DOJ spokesman says that the records were sought in 2020, while Bill Barr was attorney general. The Post notes the records showed what numbers the reporters called, as well as what numbers they received calls from, and how long each call lasted, though they didn't detail what was discussed.
Per government officials and other documents reviewed by the paper, the Trump administration also tried to get its hands on the reporters' email records, but those records were never obtained. The DOJ confirmed to NBC News that it had sought the phone records, with a spokesman calling it a "rare" move that nonetheless followed "established procedures within its media guidelines policy." "We are deeply troubled by this use of government power to seek access to the communications of journalists," Cameron Barr, the paper's acting executive editor, says. "The Department of Justice should immediately make clear its reasons for this intrusion into the activities of reporters doing their jobs, an activity protected under the First Amendment." During the Obama administration, then-AG Eric Holder had to issue an update to rules about media leak probes after the DOJ seized phone numbers for multiple AP reporters. (Read more Trump administration stories.)