Biden says it's 'simply wrong' to allow the DOJ to seize phone records and emails from reporters

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Biden says it's 'simply wrong' to allow the DOJ to seize phone records and emails from reporters
President Joe BidenAP Photo/Evan Vucci, File
  • President Joe Biden told CNN he would not allow the DOJ to seize records from reporters.
  • His remarks come after reports said the DOJ covertly obtained email and phone records from journalists with The Washington Post and CNN.
  • Biden condemned the practice, calling it "simply wrong."

President Joe Biden on Friday condemned the government seizing phone and email records from reporters.

He told CNN he would not permit the Department of Justice to do so while he's president, calling the practice "simply wrong."

"I will not let that happen," he said.

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His comments come after reports saying the Justice Department covertly obtained records from multiple reporters at The Washington Post and CNN.

Earlier this month, The Washington Post reported that the Justice Department under the Trump administration pulled phone records from several of its journalists who were investigating Russia's influence in the 2016 elections.

The DOJ notified three of its reporters "that pursuant to legal process the United States Department of Justice received toll records ... for the period from April 15, 2017 to July 31, 2017." These records included their personal, work, and home phone numbers.

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And just this week, CNN reported its Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, was informed in a similar fashion that the Justice Department had seized her phone records.

The DOJ obtained Starr's personal and work email, as well as her phone records, between June 1, 2017, and July 31, 2017. Starr was notified that the records had been seized after a court had approved the action.

As long as the attorney general approves the request, prosecutors are able to obtain records from journalists without their knowledge through the court system. Prosecutors must also demonstrate that the records are related or potentially useful to "extraordinary" circumstances like national security threats, CNN reported.

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It's unclear what the Trump administration was looking for in obtaining Starr's records.

The longstanding and controversial practice of federal investigators secretly seizing records from journalists, under the scope of leak investigations, was widely used by the Obama administration and favored by the Trump administration as well.

Biden's Friday comments against the action mark the strongest stance against the practice from his administration.

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Hours before Biden gave his direct remarks, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said ultimately, the Justice Department would have the final say.

"This President is committed, strongly, to the rights of the freedom of press as you've seen for decades, and standing up for the rights of journalists," Psaki said. "And the Justice Department conveyed yesterday that they intend to meet with reporters to hear their concerns about recent notices."

"They certainly intend to use the Holder model as their model, not the model of the last several years, but really these decisions would be up to the Justice Department," Psaki added, referencing former Obama administration Attorney General Eric Holder.

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The Justice Department did not immediately return Insider's request for comment.

Insider's Azmi Haroun contributed to this report.

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