The Trump administration battled with CNN for half a year to obtain the email records of a reporter and insisted it all take place under an extraordinary order of secrecy, CNN’s lead attorney revealed on Wednesday.
The pursuit — which started in July 2020 under then-Attorney General William Barr with a demand for two months’ of CNN Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr’s 2017 email logs — continued even after a federal judge told the Justice Department its argument for access to Starr’s internal emails was “speculative” and “unanchored in any facts.” The Trump administration’s secret pursuit represents a highly unusual and unrelenting push for journalists’ records. It included putting CNN general counsel David Vigilante under a gag order prohibiting him from sharing any details about the government’s efforts with anyone beyond the network’s president, top attorneys at CNN’s corporate parent and attorneys at an outside law firm.
It’s not uncommon for a media organization to receive a subpoena from the Justice Department for reporter records and to negotiate protections for its journalists. What stands apart is the total secrecy that surrounded the order, the months-long court proceeding and the Trump administration’s unwillingness to negotiate. This spring, the Justice Department notified reporters at CNN, The Washington Post and The New York Times that records had been seized in different investigations. This was the first public acknowledgement of the Trump administration’s attempts to obtain journalists’ communications without their knowledge.