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CBS insists in letter to House Judiciary Committee that its seizure of Catherine Herridge’s files was ‘nothing unusual’

Catherine Herridge, Jim Jordan, Hunter Biden
Catherine Herridge, Jim Jordan, Hunter Biden

CBS News claimed in a letter to the House Judiciary Committee that the network’s decision to retain the confidential files of Catherine Herridge, the acclaimed investigative reporter who was ousted two weeks ago, was “nothing unusual,” The Post has learned.

The committee, which on Friday launched a probe into the network’s seizure of the files, demanded that CBS News reveal who at CBS or its parent company, Paramount Global, “made the decision to terminate” Herridge, a reporter who was probing the Hunter Biden laptop scandal.

In a letter obtained by The Post, Paramount Global senior vice president and associate general counsel Randa Soudah didn’t directly answer that question.

CBS defended its decision to retain Catherine Herridge’s files after she was ousted two weeks ago. Nathan Posner/Shutterstock
CBS defended its decision to retain Catherine Herridge’s files after she was ousted two weeks ago. Nathan Posner/Shutterstock

Instead, Soudah said Herridge’s Feb.13 termination was “part of a widely-reported reduction in staff that affected all divisions” of the company that claimed 750 jobs.

Soudah also cited company policy and stated that Herridge’s files — which included confidential reporting notes with the names of her sources, files on her legal case and other personal documents — essentially belonged to the network.

“We’re evaluating CBS’ letter and everything is on the table as to what is next,” a spokesperson for the Judiciary Committee said Wednesday.

Committee Chair Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) has also demanded CBS turn over information by March 1 relating to its decision to retain her confidential files after she was terminated.

According to the letter, the decision to retain Herridge’s files came on the day of Herridge’s dismissal. The reporter, who was among 20 CBS News employees including four correspondents who were ousted, was not in the office that day.

As a result, Herridge “had no opportunity” to clean out her office, the letter said, noting that human resources “collected all her personal belongings in her office — clothing, books, awards and the like — and returned them to her.”

The House Judiciary Committee, chaired by Rep. Jim Jordan, launched a probe into Herridge’s termination and the retention of her files. Getty Images
The House Judiciary Committee, chaired by Rep. Jim Jordan, launched a probe into Herridge’s termination and the retention of her files. Getty Images

But the firestorm started when Herridge’s files were not immediately returned by the network.

Also at issue is the fact that Herridge’s personal belongings were returned on Feb. 15–two days after the journalist left the company.

In that two-day timeframe, it is unclear who specifically from HR separated Herridge’s materials and whether the company ran any programs on the reporter’s work laptop, which was in her office.

It also doesn’t explain who at CBS made the decision to retain the work files in the first place and when exactly the reporter’s office was secured.

All of the indicators suggest her office was not locked until Herridge’s union, SAG-AFTRA got involved on Feb 15–following complaints from Herridge that her work files were not included in her parcel of personal belongings.

At the time, a CBS labor relations rep told Herridge’s union rep that the company planned to “segregate” Herridge’s materials that belonged to CBS and return everything else to her, the letter said.

Sources speculated that CBS retained Herridge’s files because she had clashed with top brass, including news president Ingrid Ciprian-Matthews. Getty Images
Sources speculated that CBS retained Herridge’s files because she had clashed with top brass, including news president Ingrid Ciprian-Matthews. Getty Images

Paramount’s lawyer wrote that “contrary to several false press reports, absolutely none of Ms. Herridge’s files were ‘seized.’ Rather, CBS acted to secure and protect the material in Ms. Herridge’s office.”

But the term “seized” came from SAG-AFTRA, which issued a furious statement on Feb. 22, saying the union “strongly condemns CBS News’ decision to seize Catherine Herridge’s reporter notes.”

At the time, CBS sources told The Post that it was uncommon for the network to hang on to any notes or files — aside from any property belonging to CBS like cellphones or company laptops. Everything is usually boxed up and immediately returned to the departing employee.

The lawyer cited company policy equating Herridge’s files, notes and work product to “materials that belong to the company” before pointing to CBS News’ jargon-laden employment agreement. It essentially said “all materials created or developed by Artist” — presumably Herridge — “is the sole and absolute property of CBS.”

“Consequently, there was nothing unusual about the company’s intention to segregate materials that Ms.
Herridge developed or worked on for CBS News — and which belonged to the company — from any items
that belonged to her,” the lawyer added.

Sources said Herridge had encountered roadblocks from higher-ups at CBS News on her Hunter Biden reporting. REUTERS
Sources said Herridge had encountered roadblocks from higher-ups at CBS News on her Hunter Biden reporting. REUTERS

According to Jonathan Turley, a legal scholar and a former CBS legal analyst, who wrote an opinion piece on the matter for the Hill: “Journalists are generally allowed to leave with their files. Under the standard contract, including the one at CBS, journalists agree that they will make files available to the network if needed in future litigation.”

Turley called CBS’ approach “heavy-handed” and “dead wrong,” as it raised questions to why the network appeared to be targeting Herridge.

As previously reported by The Post, Herridge had run into “internal roadblocks” at the network as she covered the Hunter Biden laptop story.

A union rep from SAG-AFTRA pressed CBS to release all of Herridge’s belongings, including her confidential files. AP
A union rep from SAG-AFTRA pressed CBS to release all of Herridge’s belongings, including her confidential files. AP

She also clashed with CBS News president Ingrid Ciprian-Matthews, a sharp-elbowed executive who was investigated in 2021 over favoritism and discriminatory hiring and management practices, as revealed by The Post in January.

Indeed, sources speculated that Herridge’s firing could be retaliatory, as the correspondent sparked the 2021 investigation against Ciprian-Matthews.

The letter never explained why CBS retained the files, what they were looking for and whether it was an effort to slow down Herridge’s effort on the Hunter Biden story.

“This is part of a four-year campaign to keep Republican voices off the network,” said a journalist familiar with the situation.

Like Turley, Herridge’s union representative from SAG-AFTRA called CBS’ decision to retain the files “deeply concerning because it sets a dangerous precedent for all media professionals and threatens the very foundation of the First Amendment.”

It is unclear if the House Judiciary Committee will pursue its probe into CBS News. Catherine Herridge / Instagram
It is unclear if the House Judiciary Committee will pursue its probe into CBS News. Catherine Herridge / Instagram

In the letter, the company said the union rep laid out three main concerns to CBS, which ultimately pushed the network to release Herridge’s files on Monday. They included concerns that CBS was holding on to materials that predated her employment by CBS News.

Herridge had worked at Fox News and presumably had work product from her time at the network.

The rep also cited Herridge’s claim that her files contained notes relating to her lawsuit.

Currently, Herridge is under fire for not complying with US District Judge Christopher Cooper’s order to reveal how she learned about a federal probe into a Chinese American scientist who operated a graduate program in Virginia.

The journalist may soon be held in contempt of court for not divulging her source for an investigative piece she penned in 2017 when she worked for Fox News.

Lastly, the union rep raised the “possibility that information relating to confidential sources might be contained in the material left in Herridge’s office.”

The letter said the last concern was “significant to CBS” as Herridge “places extraordinary importance on the protection of confidential sources and information.”

CBS said it has its own “[First Amendment] interest in shielding sensitive newsgathering material for disclosure.” That’s why the network said it has provisions that state that work product and notes of journalists like Herridge belong to the company.

But in this case, CBS said it was “sympathetic” to Herridge’s interest in protecting her sources. It added that the “inference” that any materials in CBS’ possession might contain information relating to a confidential source in the journalist’s First Amendment case “raised serious concerns for CBS News.”

The lawyer said the network proposed various solutions to determine what belonged to Herridge, but the union rep was “adamant” that everything in the office be sent back to Herridge.

A union rep collected the reporter’s belongings on Feb. 26 and returned everything to her.

The lawyer emphasized that “no one from CBS News at any time reviewed, copied or even looked at any of the materials in her office.”

“CBS News considers this matter to be closed, and Ms. Herridge’s union has publicly stated that the matter has been resolved,” the lawyer concluded.

It remains to be seen, however, if the committee feels the same way.