Billy Barr Has Found The Wire Tappers, And They Were Him

In the latest revelation of an agency gone totally off the rails during the last year of Trump's disastrous presidency, the Justice Department just copped to secretly obtaining phone and email records for CNN reporter Barbara Starr. Remember when Trump spent years whining that Obama tapped his wires? Yeah, it's always, always, always projection with these people.

CNN reported last night that it received a letter from the DOJ on May 13 disclosing that the government sought and obtained a warrant for the veteran military reporter's phone and email logs for June and July of 2017. At some unspecified point during 2020, the government says it accessed "non content material," that is records of whom she spoke and corresponded with and when, but not the communications themselves. In light of the Trump administration's obsession with catching leakers and its admission that she was not the target of the investigation, we can safely read this as an effort to discover the identity of a government source for Starr's reporting. During the period in question, Starr published stories on North Korea, Syria, and Afghanistan.

File this one under "legal but highly irregular." (Before Bill Barr, President Obama's Attorney General Eric Holder also went after national security leaks, as well as the reporters they were in contact with.) Clearly there are major First Amendment implications here, which is why the DOJ Attorney's Manual characterizes media warrants as "extraordinary measures, not standard investigatory practices," requiring sign-off by the attorney general himself and eventual disclosure to the affected journalists. And yet this is the fourth reporter this month to receive such a letter.

On May 3, Washington Post reporters Ellen Nakashima and Greg Miller and former Post reporter Adam Entous were informed that the government had intercepted their communications records between April and July of 2017, a period when they were reporting on then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions's communications with Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak. As with Starr, those searches took place sometime during 2020, presumably under the tenure of Bill Barr. (Barr resigned December 15, but the procedure for obtaining these warrants is supposed to take 30 days, so it's highly unlikely that his successor, acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen, made it happen in the last two weeks of the year.)

"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," DOJ spox Marc Raimondi told the Post. "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."

And props to Attorney General Merrick Garland for coming clean now, just weeks after assuming the reins at the DOJ. But we still have a lot of questions.

Why was Barr getting taps on reporters' three-year-old phone records in 2020? Was there a wholesale dragnet of reporters communications going on? These warrants appear to be unconnected by topic and issued from different courts, with Starr's letter signed by Raj Parekh, the (acting) US Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia as well as National Security Division head John Demers, while the Post reporters were informed of their warrant by Channing D. Phillips, the (acting) US Attorney for DC. Is it a coincidence that the DOJ targeted reporters from the Post and CNN, two outlets despised by Trump, at the exact moment he was out there howling about them on the campaign trail? Exactly how many of these intrusions was Barr running, and did any of them lead to prosecutions of government employees?

But most of all, we'd like to know WHAT THE FUCK WAS GOING ON AT THE DOJ IN 2020? It was only four days ago we found out that the DOJ got a subpoena to unmask the identity of the person behind one of the Devin Nunes parody accounts on Twitter in an apparent attempt to help the congressman seek vengeance on people who say mean shit about him online. That is fucking outrageous, and it appears to be a part of a pattern of fucking outrageous behavior by Barr that reached a crescendo in the final year of the Trump administration. So it's all well and good for Sen. Ron Wyden and Rep. Jamie Raskin to ask the DOJ to beef up its internal procedures to stop it happening again, but that doesn't obviate the need for a full accounting of exactly what went down here.

And, no, a 500-page inspector general report that comes out in 2023 after half the subjects refuse to speak to investigators is not going to cut it. This isn't water under the bridge — it's a massive abuse of power by Bill Barr and his cronies, and the public deserves to hear about it.

[CNN / WaPo]

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Liz Dye

Liz Dye lives in Baltimore with her wonderful husband and a houseful of teenagers. When she isn't being mad about a thing on the internet, she's hiding in plain sight in the carpool line. She's the one wearing yoga pants glaring at her phone.


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