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During the remaining weeks of the Trump administration and the beginning of the Biden administration, the Department of Justice (DOJ) attempted to seize the communication records of four New York Times reporters in a quest for their sources.
The Biden administration maintained the pursuit that Trump began and informed some top Times executives about the record-collection initiative. However, the Biden DOJ implemented a gag order prohibiting any public discussion of the matter, the New York Times reported Friday, citing the disclosure of one of its top attorneys David McCraw. The reporters in question were Matt Apuzzo, Adam Goldman, Eric Lichtblau, and Michael S. Schmidt.
The gag order also forbade the senior employees from revealing the government’s plans to capture the email logs to the executive editor, Dean Baquet, and other top officers at the publication.
McCraw said the reason he was permitted to go public with this information was because a federal court had eventually lifted the gag order. The DOJ had been in a dispute with Google, which operates the newspaper’s email system, over acquiring the email logs.
Executive editor Baquet slammed both the Trump and Biden administrations for their record seizures, calling them an attack on freedom of the press.
“Clearly, Google did the right thing, but it should never have come to this,” Mr. Baquet said. “The Justice Department relentlessly pursued the identity of sources for coverage that was clearly in the public interest in the final 15 days of the Trump administration. And the Biden administration continued to pursue it. As I said before, it profoundly undermines press freedom.”
McCraw said such a gag order imposed on a publication as part of a inquiry was unprecedented.
A Google spokeswoman said, without specifying about this particular case, that the company was “firmly committed to protecting our customers’ data and we have a long history of pushing to notify our customers about any legal requests.”
Both President Biden and White House press secretary Jen Psaki have vocally tried to deflect responsibility and distance the administration from the DOJ’s invasive search for employee email data.