Times Requests Disclosure of Court Filings Seeking Reporters’ Email Data and Gag Order

WASHINGTON — The New York Times requested a court docket on Tuesday to unseal authorized filings by the Justice Department that might reveal how prosecutors persuaded a court docket to cloak secrecy over an order to grab the e-mail information of 4 Times reporters and then to stop Times executives from talking concerning the matter.

The submitting got here as Attorney General Merrick B. Garland scheduled a gathering on Monday with leaders of three information organizations — The Times, The Washington Post and CNN — to debate issues over prosecutors’ practices in leak investigations, in line with two individuals acquainted with the matter.

In current weeks, the Biden Justice Department has disclosed Trump-era seizures of cellphone information for reporters at every of these organizations. After the primary two disclosures, involving The Post and CNN, President Biden vowed to not let the Justice Department go after reporters’ sourcing info throughout his administration.

But final week, it got here to mild that the division had additionally secretly seized Times reporters’ cellphone information — and fought a separate, and in the end unsuccessful, battle to acquire their e mail information from Google, which runs the Times’s e mail system. The Trump Justice Department obtained a court docket order to Google on Jan. 5. After Google resisted complying, the Justice Department below Mr. Biden stored the trouble going till dropping it final Wednesday.

In an added twist, the federal government in March allowed a handful of Times legal professionals and executives to know concerning the order and the authorized battle over it. But it imposed a gag order that prevented them from disclosing it to the general public or colleagues. Among others, Dean Baquet, the chief editor, was stored at nighttime till a choose lifted the gag order on Friday.

The Justice Department had initially declined to touch upon whether or not it was accepting Mr. Biden’s seemingly off-the-cuff vow the earlier month as official coverage. But on Saturday, the division introduced that it was altering what had been longstanding coverage throughout administrations of each events, and would now not allow prosecutors in leak investigations to grab “source information from members of the news media doing their jobs.”

Still, the Times’s legal professionals contend that the general public has a proper to know extra concerning the court docket proceedings over the now-concluded battle for the emails. In specific, they’re asking what prosecutors stated in help of maintaining the preliminary order secret and later imposing the gag order on Times executives.

On Jan. 5, when the choose initially ordered Google to show over the reporters’ e mail information, he wrote, “there is reason to believe that notification of the existence of this order will seriously jeopardize the ongoing investigation, including by giving targets an opportunity to destroy or tamper with evidence.”

But the submitting famous that the obvious leak investigation and its goal was already public information, and had been reported each by The Times and by The Post. (The Trump Justice Department was investigating whether or not James B. Comey Jr., the previous F.B.I. director, had been the supply for leaked categorised details about Russian hackers in a 2017 article by the 4 reporters.)

“These orders represent an extraordinary challenge to press freedom, undermining the ability of the press to report truthful information of vital public concern,” the submitting by the Times’s legal professionals stated. “They appear to have been obtained in contravention of Justice Department regulations and practice. And the reasoning set out in the orders raises important questions about the record and representations put before the court.”