It is the latest and third in the series of revelation by federal law enforcement in recent weeks, disclosing the tactics used by former president Donald Trump’s administration as part of a leak investigation and attempt to uncover reporters’ sources.
The department also told the paper that it secured a court order to get the logs of reporters but not the content of their emails. However, “no records were obtained,” NYT reported.
The Justice Department last month disclosed that phone logs were seized of reporters who worked with The Washington Post. It also obtained the phone and email logs for a CNN journalist.
The NYT on Wednesday denounced the actions by the Donald Trump administration.
“Seizing the phone records of journalists profoundly undermines press freedom,” said Dean Baquet, executive editor of NYT. “It threatens to silence the sources we depend on to provide the public with essential information about what the government is doing.”
The records of four reporters — Matt Apuzzo, Adam Goldman, Eric Lichtblau and Michael S Schmidt — were seized for a period covering nearly four months in 2017.
President Joe Biden had earlier called the practice by Justice Department of obtaining reporters’ records “simply, simply wrong.” He said he would not allow this to happen during his term.
The department did not reveal which article was being investigated but the newspaper speculated that the federal agency was trying to look into a news piece its reporters wrote about the role of former FBI director James Comey in handling investigations during the 2016 presidential election.
The article, published in April 2017, was about the then-FBI director’s decision to announce in 2016 that the agency was making a recommendation to not charge Hillary Clinton following an investigation into her emails.
Justice Department spokesman Anthony Coley said they have notified the newspaper about obtaining phone records of reporters last year which was a part of “a criminal investigation into the unauthorised disclosure of classified information.”
“Forthcoming annual public reports from the Department covering 2019 and 2020 will indicate that members of the news media have now been notified in every instance in this period in which their records were sought or obtained in such circumstances,” Mr Coley said.
Last month, the Washington Post disclosed that the department had seized phone records of three journalists who were covering the investigation into 2016 Russian election interference.
CNN said the department last year obtained records of its Pentagon correspondent, Barbara Starr.