Reports of the seizure of New York Times reporter Ali Watkins’ personal belongings and the arrest of a Senate staffer who allegedly leaked information to (and slept with) her have been met with consternation from the media. On Thursday night's The 11th Hour, however, host Brian Williams and guest Peter Baker of The New York Times discussed the precedent for such action: the Obama administration.
Attempting to crack down on government leaks, the Trump administration has taken concrete action, and “what we've learned is that the Justice Department seized years' worth of her phone and e-mail records, which is something that we hadn't seen in this administration,” Baker explained. And while it is a first for this administration, Baker said: “We saw that on a number of occasions in the Obama administration.”
The Justice Department also arrested a senate staffer, “apparently on some sort of charges about lying, about contacts with reporters.” Although lying is a serious crime when a Trump official is caught, Baker expressed “great concern, I think, to any reporter out there” rather than concern for the broken law.
The story is stranger, still, because, according to Baker: “Ali Watkins had a personal relationship with this staffer over a number of years prior.” NBC reported that this “personal relationship” was in fact a romantic relationship, raising ethical questions of a reporter dating her source.
The effort to turn a major ethical lapse by a reporter into a scandal for the Trump administration is a stunning example of the media contorting themselves to push a narrative.
A full transcript can be found below:
MSNBC's The 11th Hour
11:15 p.m. Eastern
BRIAN WILLIAMS: Peter, we are duty-bound to end with you by asking you about something going on tonight involving a reporter at The New York Times and concurrently a senate staffer on the Intel Committee has been arrested, picked up by the Feds. Can you tell folks what's going on?
PETER BAKER: Well, that's right. This staffer worked for the Senate Intelligence Committee. He's been arrested on -- apparently on some sort of charges about lying, about contacts with reporters. Our reporter, Ali Watkins, had a personal relationship with this staffer over a number of years prior to coming to work with us at the Times. And what we've learned is that the Justice Department seized years' worth of her phone and e-mail records, which is something that we hadn't seen in this administration. We saw that on a number of occasions in the Obama administration. It caused a big furor when it happened about the idea of going after reporters' records as a way of pursuing leak investigations. The Trump administration has made a big deal about leaks, but this is the first time we know of anyway where they've actually seized records of a reporter in order to try to prove some sort of illegal leak. So that's something obviously that we're watching and something of great concern, I think, to any reporter out there working in Washington today.