CNN Top Lawyer Blasts Barr Justice Department's 'Abuses' in Targeting Reporters' Email Records

CNN general counsel David Vigiante details months-long gag order after Trump administration sought CNN reporter Barbara Starr’s email records

Lindsey Ellefson

On July 17, 2020, he explained, “through our parent company WarnerMedia, I received a secret order issued by a federal magistrate judge in the Eastern District of Virginia. That court, based on an ex parte submission approved by the William Barr-led Justice Department, had ruled that CNN must produce all of Ms. Starr’s email headers from a two-month period in 2017.”

Vigilante said CNN retained outside counsel, but could not acknowledge the order “even existed” to anyone else, including Starr herself, under threat of ” charges of contempt and even criminal prosecution for obstruction of justice.” He further elaborated on the various things he wasn’t allowed to do or know, saying “all the tools lawyers use every day to navigate these situations were refused” to CNN and his “attempts to negotiate with the DOJ went nowhere.” Vigilante noted that he wasn’t even aware of what the investigation was about.

The legal back-and-forth continued for months and it wasn’t until President Joe Biden took office that CNN was able to reach a resolution.

Starr, CNN’s Pentagon correspondent, responded Wednesday to the news, writing on Twitter, “Sometimes I just wonder if govt officials need to reread the First and Fourth Amendment. The Constitution actually works if one follows it.”

She added, “Federal judge says pursuit of my records and CNN ‘unanchored in facts’ and I was not allowed to even be aware due to gag order. #FirstAmendment today, tomorrow and always.”

Vigilante appeared on CNN later in the day to detail the experience, which is viewable above. CNN’s chief media correspondent Brian Stelter also appeared on-air, pointing out that the New York Times’ lawyers faced a similar gag order, but for a lesser period of time.

“This is a stunning revelation about the government spying on journalists and trying to do it so that even the journalists and their bosses cannot know,” he said.

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