Joe Biden Says Secret Seizure Of Journalists’ Phone Records Is “Simply Wrong,” And He Will “Not Let That Happen”

Department Of Justice
(AP Photo/J. David Ake, File)

UPDATE, 3:53 PM PT: Joe Biden told reporters Friday that it was “simply wrong” and that he would not let the Justice Department seize phone or email records from reporters during his tenure.

Biden told CNN’s Kaitlan Collins that the practice was “absolutely, positively, it’s wrong. It’s simply, simply wrong.”

“I will not let that happen,” Biden said.

CNN’s Wolf Blitzer responded, “That is really encouraging news, especially those of us, we are all biased,” referring to concerns among journalists that such actions stifle the reporting process.

CNN reported on Thursday that its Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, was informed that during the Trump administration, prosecutors had secretly obtained her phone records, presumably as part of a leak investigation. The Washington Post reported recently that three of its journalists also had their phone records for that year also seized.

Biden’s remarks are significant because White House and DOJ officials had yet to condemn the practice, even though they noted that it occurred during the previous administration.

PREVIOUSLY: White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters on Friday that the Justice Department intends to meet with media representatives after CNN’s revelation that Donald Trump’s administration secretly obtained phone and email records of one of its reporters.

But Psaki, noting that the action took place during the prior administration, referred questions to the DOJ when asked about the appropriateness of seeking phone records.

“This president is committed strongly to the rights of freedom of the press, as you have seen for decades, and for standing up for the rights of journalists,” she said at Friday’s press briefing.

On Thursday, CNN reported that Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr recently received a letter informing her that prosecutors had obtained her phone records from June 1, 2017 to July 31, 2017. The network reported that an official said that Starr was not the target of the investigation.

CNN President Jeff Zucker said that the network “strongly condemns the secret collection of any aspect of a journalist’s correspondence, which is clearly protected by the First Amendment. We are asking for an immediate meeting with the Justice Department for an explanation.”

This is only the latest revelation of actions taken during the Trump administration to try to root out the identity of sources, as the president railed against leaks. The Washington Post disclosed that three of its reporters, all of whom covered the Russian investigation, were informed that the DOJ obtained their phone records for a time period in 2017.

The Reporters Committee for the Freedom of the Press’ executive director, Bruce Brown, said in a statement, “That a journalist from another news organization had communications records seized by the Trump Justice Department suggests that the last administration’s efforts to intrude into reporter-source relationships and chill newsgathering is more sweeping than we originally thought.”

But he called on the DOJ’s current leadership to “provide a detailed explanation about what exactly happened and why, and how it plans to strengthen protections for the free flow of information to the public.”

At Friday’s briefing, Psaki told reporters that the Biden administration’s DOJ intended to follow the “Holder model,” referring to Eric Holder, attorney general under President Barack Obama. But she did not elaborate on what that meant, as reporters noted that there were aggressive leak investigations during Holder’s tenure too. Fox News Peter Doocy noted, “Eric Holder was the attorney general when the DOJ was spying on the Associated Press and was obtaining phone records.”

In 2013 the Justice Department informed the Associated Press that it secretly obtained phone records from its reporters’ personal phones and other office lines. Also targeted in a leak investigation was James Rosen, who was then working for Fox News.

Psaki told Doocy that the DOJ would not be following the “Barr model,” a reference to Trump-era Attorney General William Barr. “Eric Holder did monitor the phone records of journalists,” Doocy said.

Psaki said that “all these decisions would be made by our attorney general and the Department of Justice.” A DOJ spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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