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Trump’s DOJ Allegedly Obtained Phone Records of WaPo Reporters Covering Russia Probe

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  • Former President Trump’s Justice Department secretly obtained phone records from Washington Post journalists covering Russia’s involvement in the 2016 election, the outlet reported Friday.
  • The DOJ seized records of the work, home, and cellphone numbers of three reporters from April 15 to July 31, 2017. Those records included who the calls were with and how long they were, but not what was said.
  • Many journalists and Free Speech activists condemned the action and called on the Biden administration to end the practice of record subpoenas, which are often used by the government to find clues about possible sources and can harm key newsgathering.
  • A DOJ spokesperson defended the previous administration’s actions, arguing that the news media are not the targets of such investigations but rather, “those with access to the national defense information who provided it to the media and thus failed to protect it as lawfully required.”

Washington Post Reporters Subpoenaed

The Washington Post reported Friday that the Justice Department under former President Donald Trump secretly obtained phone records from some of its journalists regarding reporting they did on Russia’s role in the 2016 election.

According to the outlet, the DOJ sent three separate letters dated May 3 and addressed to three former Post journalists to inform them they were “hereby notified that pursuant to legal process the United States Department of Justice received toll records associated with the following telephone numbers for the period from April 15, 2017 to July 31, 2017.” 

The letters, which listed work, home, or cellphone numbers, also stated that prosecutors had gotten a court order to obtain records for the reporters’ work email accounts, but that they did not ultimately not obtain those records.

The phone records, the outlet said, “included the numbers of all the calls made to and from the targeted phone over the specified time period, and how long each call lasted, but do not include what was said in those phone calls.”

“Investigators often hope such records will provide clues about possible sources the reporters were in contact with before a particular story published,” it added.

The Post reported that the letters do not say why the DOJ was seizing the phone records. However, it did note that toward the end of the time period outlined, the three reporters had written a story about classified U.S. intelligence intercepts that indicated then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions had discussed the Trump campaign with Russia’s ambassador to the U.S. when he was a sitting senator in 2016.

The alleged move is significant because it is rare for the DOJ to use subpoenas in order to obtain records of reporters in leak investigations. In fact, the last high-profile seizure of communication records was part of an investigation into a source cited in 2017 reporting that was also about the investigation into Russian election interference.

Also very notably, these subpoenas need to be approved directly by the attorney general. A spokesperson for the DOJ told The Post that the records had been requested in 2020, meaning it would have likely taken place under Attorney General William Barr, who stepped down on Dec. 23.

Response

The allegations immediately drew criticism from First Amendment advocates and journalists, who have long opposed the practice of obtaining these kinds of records, and argued that attempts to identify sources of leaks hurt critical news gathering and reporting.

“We are deeply troubled by this use of government power to seek access to the communications of journalists,” said Cameron Barr, the current acting executive editor of The Post. “The Department of Justice should immediately make clear its reasons for this intrusion into the activities of reporters doing their jobs, an activity protected under the First Amendment.”

Many other journalists also demanded that the Biden administration ensure such practices are not replicated, noting the escalated efforts to subpoena reporters records under both the Trump and Obama administrations.

However, a DOJ spokesperson defended the previous administration’s decision to subpoena The Post reporters in a statement to the outlet.

“While rare, the Department follows the established procedures within its media guidelines policy when seeking legal process to obtain telephone toll records and non-content email records from media members as part of a criminal investigation into unauthorized disclosure of classified information,” the spokesperson said. 

“The targets of these investigations are not the news media recipients but rather those with access to the national defense information who provided it to the media and thus failed to protect it as lawfully required.”

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (Variety) (CNN)

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Supreme Court Allows Release of Jan. 6 Documents in Major Loss for Trump

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The high court’s decision initiates the release of White House documents that the former president had attempted to block the Jan. 6 investigation committee from viewing.


SCOTUS Ruling

The Supreme Court on Wednesday rejected former President Donald Trump’s efforts to block the White House from handing over records to the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection.

Trump filed a lawsuit against the panel and the National Archives to prevent the committee from seeing key documents, testimonies, and other evidence lawmakers had requested.

In the suit, he argued that the records were protected by executive privilege, which he said still applied to him even though he’s not president anymore, and despite the fact that President Joe Biden decided not to exercise his executive privilege over the documents.

Trump also claimed that the information has “no reasonable connection to the events of that day” or “any conceivable legislative purpose.”

In an 8-1 decision with Justice Clarence Thomas dissenting, the Supreme Court rejected the effort to block the records from the committee until the issue is resolved by the courts — a process that could take months if not years.

In their ruling, the justices wrote that there are “serious and substantial concerns” regarding whether a former president can obtain a court order to prevent the disclosure of records, especially when the incumbent president waived their right to exercise executive privilege over said documents.

However, they still agreed with the determination by an appeals court that Trump’s claim of privilege over the documents would fail “even if he were the incumbent.”

Records Handed Over to Committee

According to reports, within just hours of the ruling, the National Archives began sending the roughly 800 pages of documents to the Jan. 6 committee.

The documents have not been made public, and it remains unclear if and when they will be.

What is known is the nature of the content that the committee has requested, including records detailing all of Trump’s movements and meetings on Jan. 6. 

Notably, the lawmakers also requested information about plans by the administration to undermine Congress’s confirmation of the electoral college vote and Trump’s pressure campaign to overturn the results of the elections.

Also unknown is what the panel will do with the documents if it finds damning evidence. While the committee’s powers are limited in scope, it could make a criminal referral to the Justice Department, which has its own ongoing probe into the insurrection and the events that preceded it.

See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (The Associated Press) (The Washington Post

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NY Attorney General Says Investigation of Trump Business Found “Significant Evidence” of Fraud

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The state attorney general’s office accused the former president and his family business of falsely inflating the value of assets and personal worth to lenders, the IRS, and insurance brokers.


New York Attorney General’s Filing

New York Attorney General Letitia James announced late Tuesday she had “significant evidence” that former President Donald Trump and the Trump Organization “falsely and fraudulently” misrepresented the value of assets “to financial institutions for economic benefit.”

The allegations mark the first time James has made specific accusations against Trump and his business. They come as part of a nearly 160-page filing asking a judge to order the former president — along with Ivanka Trump and Donald Trump Jr. — to comply with subpoenas for the investigation after the family sued James to block her from questioning them.

The filing claims that Trump and the company inflated the value of six properties, including several golf courses and Trump’s own penthouse in Trump Tower, on financial statements to obtain favorable loans, tax deductions, and insurance coverage. 

The document adds that many of the financial statements were “generally inflated as part of a pattern to suggest that Mr. Trump’s net worth was higher than it otherwise would have appeared.”

James outlined several specific examples, such as a financial statement where the value of Trump’s Seven Springs estate in Westchester was boosted because it listed seven mansions on the property worth $61 million that did not actually exist.

That resulted in Trump receiving millions of dollars in tax deductions on that property, as well as another in Los Angeles.

In another notable instance, the attorney general’s office said that the $327 million value of Trump’s penthouse in Trump Tower was calculated off a financial statement that falsely reported his home was nearly triple its actual size.

While the statement claimed the apartment was 30,000 square feet, Trump had signed documents stating it was actually 10,996 square feet.

Alleged Direct Involvement

The allegation regarding the apartment is especially significant because it directly ties Trump himself to the accusations of financial wrongdoing. It is also not the only instance where Trump was implicated.

The filing additionally asserts that Trump Organization chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg — who was indicted last summer on multiple criminal charges relating to the business’ tax dealings — implied the former president was involved in finalizing the false valuations. 

According to the documents, Weisselberg “testified that it was ‘certainly possible’ Mr. Trump discussed valuations with him and that it was ‘certainly possible’ Mr. Trump reviewed the Statement of Financial Condition for a particular year before it was finalized.” 

Another top Trump Organization executive also testified that he was under the impression Trump reviewed the statements before they were finalized.

While the filing provides less direct links to Trump’s children, it does detail their involvement. Specifically, it alleges that Ivanka Trump rented an apartment at Trump Park Avenue and was given an option to buy it for $8.5 million, despite the fact that the property was valued at $25 million.

It also connected Donald Trump Jr. to some of the properties flagged by claiming investigators found evidence he “was consulted” on the Statements of Financial Condition.

Response

Citing these connections, James argued in a series of tweets Tuesday that it is necessary for her inquiry to question Trump and his two children on their alleged involvement.

“We are taking legal action to force Donald Trump, Donald Trump, Jr., and Ivanka Trump to comply with our investigation into the Trump Organization’s financial dealings,” she wrote. “No one in this country can pick and choose if and how the law applies to them.”

The former president has not yet addressed the matter, but a Trump Organization attorney representing Donald Trump Jr. and Ivanka Trump responded by arguing the subpoenas violate the constitutional rights of the family and that the filing “never addresses the fundamental contentions of our motion to quash or stay the subpoenas.”

In a statement Wednesday, the Trump Organization denied James’ allegations as “baseless” and accused her of trying to “mislead the public yet again.”

As far as what happens next, James’ office has said it “has not yet reached a final decision regarding whether this evidence merits legal action.”

Because James’s investigation is civil, she can sue Trump, his company, and his children, but she cannot file criminal charges. However, her probe is running parallel to a criminal investigation into the same conduct led by the Manhattan district attorney, who does have that power.

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The New York Times) (The Wall Street Journal)

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Judges Uphold North Carolina’s Congressional Map in Major GOP Win

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The judges agreed that the congressional map was “a result of intentional, pro-Republican partisan redistricting” but said they did not have the power to intervene in legislative matters.


New Maps Upheld

A three-judge panel in North Carolina upheld the state’s new congressional and legislative maps on Tuesday, deciding it did not have the power to respond to arguments that Republicans had illegally gerrymandered it to benefit them.

Voting rights groups and Democrats sued over the new maps, which were drawn by the state’s Republican legislature following the 2020 census.

The maps left Democrats with just three of North Carolina’s 14 congressional seats in a battleground state that is more evenly split between Republicans and Democrats. Previously, Democrats held five of the 13 districts the state had before the last census, during which North Carolina was allocated an additional seat.

The challengers argued that the blatantly partisan maps had been drawn in a way that went against longstanding rules, violated the state’s Constitution, and intentionally disenfranchised Black voters.

In their unanimous ruling, the panel — composed of one Democrat and two Republicans — agreed that both the legislative and congressional maps were “a result of intentional, pro-Republican partisan redistricting.”

The judges added that they had “disdain for having to deal with issues that potentially lead to results incompatible with democratic principles and subject our state to ridicule.”

Despite their beliefs, the panel said they did not have a legal basis for intervening in political matters and constraining the legislature. They additionally ruled that the challengers did not prove their claims that the maps were discriminatory based on race.

Notably, the judges also stated that partisan gerrymandering does not actually violate the state’s Constitution. 

The Path Ahead

While the decision marks a setback to the plaintiffs, the groups have already said they will appeal the decision to the North Carolina Supreme Court.

The state’s highest court has a slim Democratic majority and has already signaled they may be open to tossing the map.

There are also past precedents for voting maps to be thrown out in North Carolina. The state has an extensive history of legal battles over gerrymandering, and Republican leaders have been forced to redraw maps twice in recent years.

A forthcoming decision is highly anticipated, as North Carolina’s congressional map could play a major role in the control of the House in the 2022 midterm elections if they are as close as expected. 

See what others are saying: (Politico) (The New York Times) (The Wall Street Journal)

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