U.S. Press Freedom Tracker

Trump DOJ obtained 2017 phone records of 3 Washington Post reporters

Incident Details

January 1, 2020

The U.S. Department of Justice on May 3, 2021, notified Washington Post reporters Ellen Nakashima and Greg Miller, and former Post reporter Adam Entous, that it had obtained their phone records from 2017 over reporting on the Trump administration's communications with Russia during the 2016 election, the Post reported.

The Justice Department wrote in three separate letters that they obtained the reporters' phone records from April 15, 2017 to July 31, 2017, the Post reported. The article said the letters don’t state the purpose of this seizure, but noted that “toward the end of the time period mentioned in the letters, those reporters wrote a story about classified U.S. intelligence intercepts indicating that in 2016, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) had discussed the Trump campaign with Sergey Kislyak, who was Russia’s ambassador to the United States.”

The letters received at the Post were signed by Channing D. Phillips, the acting U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia, and John C. Demers, the head of the Justice Department’s national security division, the paper reported. Records from five phones had been seized. These were Nakashima’s work, cell and home phones; Miller’s work and cellphones; and Entous’ cellphone.

"We are deeply troubled by this use of government power to seek access to the communications of journalists,” the Post’s acting executive editor, Cameron Barr, said in the article. “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."

A Justice Department spokesman told the Post that the decision to obtain those records came in 2020, during the Trump Administration. A specific date or the name of the telecom company in possession of the records was not disclosed. The letters, according to the article, also indicated a court order to take “non content communication records” for the reporters’ work email accounts, but the Justice Department didn’t do so. The Post said the timeline of the leak investigation was unclear, but the Justice Department is typically required to tell the news organization that it took action to obtain media records, which explains the notification of the reporters.

The Department of Justice, The Washington Post and the reporters didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment from the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker.

The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker catalogues press freedom violations in the United States. Email tips to [email protected].