Justice Department seizes reporter’s phone, email records in leak probe
The Department of Justice reportedly seized a New York Times reporter’s phone and email records this year in an effort to probe the leaking of classified information, the first known instance of the DOJ going after a journalist’s data under President Trump.
The Times reported Thursday that the DOJ seized years’ worth of records from journalist Ali Watkins’s time as a reporter at BuzzFeed News and Politico before she joined The Times in 2017 as a federal law enforcement reporter, according to the report Thursday.
Watkins was alerted by a prosecutor in February that the DOJ had years of records and subscriber information from telecommunications companies such as Google and Verizon for two email accounts and a phone number belonging to her.
Investigators did not receive the content of the records, according to The Times.
The newspaper reported that it learned of the letter on Thursday.
“It’s always disconcerting when a journalist’s telephone records are obtained by the Justice Department — through a grand jury subpoena or other legal process,” Watkin’s attorney Mark MacDougall said in a statement to The Times.
“Whether it was really necessary here will depend on the nature of the investigation and the scope of any charges.”
The Hill has reached out to the Justice Department for comment.
FBI agents reportedly contacted Watkins about a previous three-year romantic relationship with the Senate Intelligence Committee’s former director of security, James Wolfe, as part of a probe into unauthorized leaks.
Watkins reportedly did not answer the agents’ questions, however. Watkins told The Times that Wolfe did not act as a source for information during their relationship.
She also said she informed editors at BuzzFeed, Politico and The Times of the relationship.
BuzzFeed News editor Ben Smith declined to comment for the Times report, while Politico didn’t immediately respond for its request for comment.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced last year that the DOJ had tripled the number of leak investigations it was conducting compared to the Obama administration, which prosecuted more leak cases than all other administrations.