Via America’s Lawyer: Reports surface of the DOJ quietly keeping tabs on CNN and Washington Post contributors. RT correspondent Brigida Santos joins Mike Papantonio to discuss how the federal government has been conducting surveillance of American journalists for decades.


*This transcript was generated by a third-party transcription software company, so please excuse any typos.

Mike Papantonio:             The justice department has notified several journalists that the Trump administration secretly obtained their phone and email records in 2017. The disclosures highlight how the justice department increasingly targets news organizations, social media companies, and individual journalists. Brigida Santos, who is a wonderful journalist, joins me now to talk about this. Brigida, which reporters were targeted by the department of justice under Trump?

Brigida Santos:                   The justice department has informed a CNN Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr, that the justice department secretly obtained her work and personal phone and email records in 2017, even though she personally was not the target of any investigation. Three reporters with the Washington Post have also been notified that their work home or cell phone records were also seized. The DOJ secretly collected what’s known as toll records, meaning information about communications made to and from the targeted phones or email accounts, including the duration, recipients and dates. But it reportedly did not obtain the content of any phone or email communications. Now, a DOJ spokesperson says the target of these investigations was not the news media, but those with access to classified national defense information who provided it to the media.

Mike Papantonio:             Yeah. We’d like to think it’s just bumpkin Trump, but this has been happening administration after administration. You recall, I think one time we did a story on the Frank Church hearings that took place in the 1970s, where they found out that the government was following journalists. They actually were threatening journalists. Seymour Hersh, as a matter of fact, was threatened with death and it all emanated from the FBI, it emanated from the department of justice. Does the justice department have free reign to seize a journalists’ data? Is that where we are right now in America?

Brigida Santos:                   Pretty much. The DOJ is legally allowed to obtain journalists’ records through a court order without journalists knowing as long as the attorney general authorizes subpoenas related to news gathering activities and the DOJ has determined that the case falls under extraordinary circumstances, by typically citing harm to national security. By doing this, the government might not exactly learn what was discussed between a journalist and their source, but it might actually reveal who that source is or provide clues. Now, after doing this, the DOJ must inform journalists that their records have been seized, either 90 days after the government receives any subpoenaed data, or after the justice department determines there’s no longer a threat to the investigation or national security. And that could be many years.

Mike Papantonio:             Yeah. So it’s, so sorry we did this. We, we got everything we wanted. We’re so sorry we did this. But you’ve been spied on, your family’s been spied on, and it’s been going on for years. Gee, it is, it is the Frank Church kind of saga that we saw in the seventies where the FBI was in, CIA, NSA, in everybody’s backyard. The DOJ’s war on whistleblowers didn’t start under Trump. How, how has the criminalization of news gathering gotten worse over the years? It’s certainly gotten worse and I don’t think you can blame one administration. I think it’s administration after administration where this expands more and more in this Orwellian kind of way. What’s your take?

Brigida Santos:                   Yeah. Over the past two decades, at least, the government has increasingly cracked down on whistleblowers. Now, before president George W. Bush only one person had ever been convicted under the espionage act for leaking classified information to the press. And remember the espionage act was designed to go after spies during world war one, not people who expose government crimes and corruption. During the Bush administration, the espionage act was used to jail reporter, Judith Miller, for refusing to reveal her source in a CIA leak investigation. The Obama administration then ramped it up using the espionage act to prosecute more people than any prior administration combined for leaking sensitive information. President Trump then of course, inherited that blueprint that was laid out by his predecessors and continued the war on whistleblowers, further undermining press freedoms that are guaranteed under the first amendment at a time when trust in media has fallen to historic lows.

Mike Papantonio:             Yeah, she was a target because she was trying to tell the world that Iraq was based on an absolute lie. That the administration, the two administrations had lied about it. That it was killing, killing American soldiers, killing Iraqis by the, by the hundreds of thousands and it was all based on a lie that was created by primarily the news media. It was created by MSNBC, CNN, along with the weapons industry and of course driven by the FBI and the CIA. And so she wanted to expose all that and, you know, if you think about it, that’s real journalism. So she was certainly a threat. Brigida, thank you for joining me. Okay.

Brigida Santos:                   Anytime, Mike.

Mike Papantonio is an American attorney and television and radio talk show host. He is past president of The National Trial Lawyers, the most prestigious trial lawyer association in America; and is one of the few living attorneys inducted into the Trial Lawyer Hall of Fame. He hosts the international television show "America's Lawyer"; and co-hosts Ring of Fire Radio, a nationally syndicated weekly radio program, with Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. and Sam Seder.