Mueller scrutinized an unidentified member of the media in Russia

WASHINGTON – Special advocate who investigated Russian interference in the 2016 election, Robert S. Mueller III, examined “a member of the media suspected of having participated in the conspiracy” to hack Democrats and make their emails public, the Justice Department said on Wednesday.

Then-Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein, who was overseeing the Russia investigation, approved a subpoena in 2018 for the anonymous person’s phone and email records. He also approved seeking a voluntary interview with that person and then issuing a subpoena to force the person to testify before a grand jury, the department said.

“All of this information was necessary to advance the investigation to determine whether the member of the media was involved in the conspiracy to illegally obtain and use information from the hacked political party or other victims,” ​​the department said.

No member of the media has been charged with conspiring in the hack and dump operation, and Wednesday’s disclosure left many questions unanswered.

He did not elaborate on why the person was suspected of participating in a conspiracy to interfere with the 2016 election, or whether that person had ever testified before a grand jury.

He also did not define “member of the media” to clarify whether that narrowly meant a traditional journalist or whether it could extend broadly to various types of news commentators. (For example, it has been known since September 2018 that Jérôme Corsi, conspiracy theorist and political commentator, was summoned to appear that year.)

A spokesperson for the Department of Justice declined to provide further details, and several former law enforcement officials who were familiar with the Mueller investigation did not respond to requests for information.

The disclosure of the scrutiny of a member of the news media was contained in a revision to a report released by the Trump administration on investigative activities that affected or involved the news media in 2018. The Trump version of this report had omitted the episode.

President Biden’s Justice Department also released reports on Wednesday covering these investigative activities in 2019, which the Trump-era department has not released, and in 2020. And he provided new details on the investigations into the leaks at the end of the Trump administration which searched for files. for reporters at CNN, The Washington Post and The New York Times.

The report for 2019 disclosed another investigative matter apparently related to the office of the special adviser, which then released its final report and closed its doors. In the prosecution of one of those accused of “obstructing the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election,” an American lawyer authorized the subpoena of an anonymous member of the media for him to testify, and this person agreed to comply.

However, prosecutors ultimately did not call this person to testify at the trial. The report does not say whether a subpoena was issued, or whether the obtaining of one was simply approved. He also did not say what the person allegedly testified to.

He also did not say whether he was referring to the trial of Roger J. Stone Jr., Mr. Trump’s longtime friend, which took place in 2019. Mr. Stone has been charged, among others. , for obstructing one of the congressional inquiries into Russia; he was convicted, but then pardoned by Mr. Trump.

The 2019 report also touched on two hitherto unknown episodes in which the Justice Department investigated members of the media for “offenses resulting from information-gathering activities” without saying what they were. allegations.

One section of the report briefly dealt with an investigation of a member of the media for such offenses. He said the attorney general authorized prosecutors to use various legal tools to force companies to turn communications and business records over to the target. (The report did not appoint the attorney general; President Donald J. Trump appointed William P. Barr to this post in February 2019.)

In this case, according to the report, investigators used a “filter team” in an attempt to “minimize scrutiny of media-related documents and protect those documents.”

Another section of the 2019 report dealt with an investigation of “news media employees” for such offenses. He said the attorney general had authorized investigators to conduct voluntary interviews with “two members of the media employed by a media entity” in connection with the case, but provided no further details.

In contrast to these scattered accounts, the Justice Department also released a detailed timeline of the late Trump-era leak investigations in sources for reporters at CNN, The Post, and The Times, all of which spilled over into Mr. Biden’s presidency and that the Biden administration was disclosed earlier this year.

The investigations into the leaks involving CNN, The Times and The Post were opened in August 2017, each involving articles published or broadcast in the previous months. The timeline did not explain why three years later there was a sudden urgency to attack journalists’ communications records.

Mr Barr has approved requests to try to get communication records from a CNN reporter in May 2020, according to the timeline. He approved the search for The Times reporters ‘documents in September 2020. And on November 13, after Mr. Trump lost the presidential election, Mr. Barr approved a request to try to obtain the journalists’ communication files. of the Post.

The Justice Department managed to obtain call data – records showing who called who and when, but not what was said – for journalists from all three organizations. The timeline indicated that the phone companies had been legally free to reveal that they had received subpoenas, although none did.

While the department ultimately obtained email tapes for CNN reporter Barbara Starr, it failed to obtain email recordings for The Times and Post reporters whose stories were under review. The Biden-era department ultimately abandoned these efforts.

Yet the fight for these documents – including the imposition of gag orders on some media executives and a delay in notifying journalists that their documents had been sought and, in some cases, obtained – has spread to the Biden administration. The timeline showed that in April Attorney General Merrick B. Garland approved an extension of the deadline to notify Ms Starr of the case.

In July, on instructions from Mr. Biden, Mr. Garland banned prosecutors and FBI agents from using subpoenas, search warrants and other tools of legal coercion to attack police documents. communication of journalists or forcing them to testify on confidential sources – a major shift in Justice Department policy from practices under recent previous administrations from both sides.

At the request of Mr Garland – who also ordered the production of the deadlines – the Inspector General of the Department of Justice opened an investigation into the decision of federal prosecutors to secretly seize journalists’ data, as well as communication files. House Democrats and staff. limbs swept away in leak investigations.

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