The Justice Department went to federal court on Thursday to try to wrest electronic communications from CNN’s attorneys, in a case that is just one of the most visible examples of the government’s broad power to seize private communications as part of its investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.
The precedent-setting litigation is being closely watched by news organizations, which are increasingly worried about the potential for the Trump administration to try to use its power to force them to turn over emails or communications related to ongoing investigations.
Justice Department attorneys told a federal judge that they would seek permission to search the electronic communications of lawyers for both CNN and a New York hedge fund, Atlas Hedge Capital, as part of the government’s investigation into whether senior Trump campaign officials had tried to coordinate with Russia to influence the election.
Justice Department officials want electronic communications related to Alexander Jones, the senior manager who negotiated a Russian loan for an unnamed hedge fund; and Edward Jeffcoat, the chief investment officer and head of research at the hedge fund.
The government is seeking electronic communications sent between the three people at the New York hedge fund and others who appeared to be sympathetic to the efforts to finance the Russian bridge.
The two lawsuits are the latest tests of the news media’s ability to defend their interests in online communications against the government’s growing efforts to search electronic communications to get information about investigations. In January, reporters from the New York Times and Politico were ordered to hand over communications with Trump-supporting Gen. Michael Flynn, a former adviser to the campaign and later to the White House.