CNN correspondent Barbara Starr has branded the Trump-era Justice Department’s past decision to seize her personal email and phone records, as well as those of other colleagues, a “sheer abuse of power”.
In an op-ed penned for her outlet on Monday, Ms Starr accused the Trump administration of having manipulated both her and CNN when the DoJ secretly obtained her email records during a probe into news leaks.
“I am not the subject of an investigation and there is no suggestion of wrongdoing,” the correspondent wrote. “But as a CNN journalist, myself and my newsroom clearly were being used as a tool by the Trump Justice Department.”
The journalist’s comments came as leaders from CNN, The New York Times and The Washington Post were scheduled to meet with Attorney General Merrick Garland to demand a full explanation for why eight reporters from the three organisations, including Ms Starr, were subjected to secret efforts to access their records.
According to CNN, the DOJ informed Ms Starr on 13 May that prosecutors had procured her phone and email records dating from 1 June, 2017, to 31 July, 2017.
Earlier this month, CNN’s lead attorney David Vigilante reportedly revealed to the network that the DOJ had asked CNN for thousands of Ms Starr’s email records.
The attorney said he had been placed under a gag order and was only able to discuss the investigation with CNN’s president, attorneys of CNN’s corporate parent and with lawyers at an outside firm.
Due to the gag order, Ms Starr said she had no idea that her emails had been accessed until late May.
Ms Starr said CNN had managed to reduce the DOJ’s request for 30,000 records to exclude any messages that were not related to the investigation.
Still, she said: “I am genuinely horrified by what happened.”
The journalist is now calling for the Biden administration to introduce new protections to ensure that journalists will not be targeted in a similar effort again as she branded the incident a “sheer abuse of power”.
“All of this is a sheer abuse of power in my view – first against CNN and myself, since our work is and should always be protected by the First Amendment,” Ms Starr said.
“President Biden has said the seizing of reporters’ records will be stopped under his administration. But with all respect to him and his stated intentions, that is a promise of limited relevance,” she said.
“Unless new protections are codified, this could all happen again to any journalist,” the correspondent warned. “Secret proceedings, gag orders so CNN attorneys can’t speak to me, and eight reporters being swept up in investigations with no explanation – these are not part of a free press in the United States.”