State Dept: We Can Give Records of Journalists' Activities to DOJ Without Court Order

State Department Deputy Spokesman Patrick Ventrell told journalists on Tuesday that "no court order is required" for the Department to turn over records of journalists' movements within the Department building or any information deemed necessary to "cooperate" with Department of Justice investigations.

Last week

Associated Press reporter Matt Lee challenged Ventrell on the procedures surrounding the release of journalists' movements within the State Department to outside agencies. Ventrell said he wasn't sure but that it was his understanding "a legal process is followed:"


QUESTION: And then on a separate topic, was former Secretary Clinton consulted with the tracking of my colleague James Rosen’s building – State Department building swipe? And were any other employees interviewed in connection with the North Korea reporting that James Rosen did?

MR. VENTRELL: My understanding, this is a law enforcement matter. I really refer you to the Department of Justice for all details on that. In terms of our cooperation with the Department of Justice or the FBI on matters, that would be handled through Diplomatic Security channels and law enforcement channels. That’s how that’s done.

QUESTION: So you – in principle, DS doesn’t have a problem turning over badge records to --

MR. VENTRELL: Again, I’m not aware of the specific cooperation on this case, but --

QUESTION: Well, they got the records of his entry and egress, so you guys obviously handed – I mean, they didn’t make them up, I hope.

MR. VENTRELL: Well, I can’t --

QUESTION: So you guys obviously gave them to them.

MR. VENTRELL: I can’t comment on any details of this particular case, but when we have --

QUESTION: Well, I’m not talking about this particular case. Just in general, I mean, are you, like, running around, giving out the details of our comings and goings from this building?

MR. VENTRELL: Issues of cooperation on law enforcement matters between Diplomatic Security and the FBI are handled in law enforcement channels. I don’t have anything further on it.

QUESTION: Wait. Well, so you mean you’re not – do you just give the information out if people ask for it? Or do they need a court order or something?

MR. VENTRELL: Matt, I’m not sure of the legal circumstances on that kind of information sharing.

QUESTION: Well, can you check?

MR. VENTRELL: Sure.

QUESTION: It would be --

MR. VENTRELL: I’m happy to check on --

QUESTION: If DOJ comes to you and says we want the entry and exit records from people, persons X, Y, and Z, do you just give them to them? Or do they have to --

MR. VENTRELL: My understanding is there’s a legal process that’s followed, but I’d have to check with the lawyers.

QUESTION: Well, can you find out what the – what it is --

MR. VENTRELL: I’d be happy to check.

QUESTION: -- from your end, whether they need a subpoena or whether they need something like that.


[...]


QUESTION: Can I – all right. So let me just – I just want to make sure that you – the question that I asked earlier about the badge stuff is framed correctly to DS. So could – I want to know: Is it a matter of routine for the State Department to simply hand over records of people coming and going from this building? Or do you require some kind of a court order to --

MR. VENTRELL: I will check with the Bureau of Diplomatic Security and the Office of the Legal Adviser after the briefing, Matt.


Lee followed up with his inquiry on Tuesday and was told that the Department determined unrestricted cooperation on a "case-by-case basis." Ventrell quickly followed up by praising the President's support for a "free press" and referred Lee to the President's comments for more information on the Administration's position on investigative journalism. "The President was very clear about that," Ventrell said. 

"I don't see how that's very clear about you guys just handing over ... records," Lee responded. The Associated Press reporter went on to ask if there was a distinction between State Department employees and journalists when it comes to records being turned over without court order. Ventrell said he had no information. "I mean, we’re a federal building and we share information as necessary with other federal agencies on law enforcement matters."

Read the transcript and watch the video below: 


QUESTION: Last week, I think you took this question.

MR. VENTRELL: Yeah.

QUESTION: It was about what you guys do when the Department of Justice comes knocking on the door asking for records of people’s comings and goings from this building. So did you get an answer? Do you just hand them over blithely, or do you make them get a – some kind of a court order?

MR. VENTRELL: So, the Department of State cooperates in criminal investigations in a variety of ways, Matt, including by providing various records in support of DOJ investigations when requested. In general, no court order is required for such cooperation to take place.

QUESTION: All right.

MR. VENTRELL: Having said that, I do point you of course to the President’s speech, which was just a couple hours after I was up at the podium on Thursday, where he was very clear that a free press is essential for our democracy and that he is troubled by the possibility that investigations may chill investigative journalism, and that journalists should not be at legal risk for doing their jobs. So the President of the United States was very clear about that.

QUESTION: Well, I don’t see how that’s very clear about you guys just handing over entry and egress records. He didn’t say anything about that. So, is this --

MR. VENTRELL: Well, again, this is a federal building, and we cooperate --

QUESTION: -- is it – no, yeah, yeah, but --

MR. VENTRELL: -- with other federal agencies.

QUESTION: Right, for federal employees, presumably. But what about private citizens like journalists who come and go to this building? Is having a badge – and I don’t know, maybe it is – does the privilege of having a badge mean that your – that any of our records can just be opened up and looked at at any time without any kind of a court saying this?

MR. VENTRELL: The information that I have is that in general, no court order is required --

QUESTION: Okay, but --

MR. VENTRELL: -- for such cooperation --

QUESTION: Right.

MR. VENTRELL: -- with the Department of Justice --

QUESTION: Okay, but does that apply --

MR. VENTRELL: -- on ongoing law enforcement investigations.

QUESTION: Does that apply to federal employees’ badges, or journalists’, or both?

MR. VENTRELL: I don’t have any information one way or another.

QUESTION: So there’s no distinction made between an employee of the State Department who signs agreements to protect and keep confident – keep classified information confidential, and someone like any of us? There’s no distinction between that? Those records are --

MR. VENTRELL: According to the information I have --

QUESTION: -- wide open?

MR. VENTRELL: Well, we share them with the Department of Justice or other law enforcement agencies on a case-by-case basis.

QUESTION: Okay. So you are aware that they came in this case and asked for the --

MR. VENTRELL: Well, in some federal buildings they publish every --

QUESTION: Yeah.

MR. VENTRELL: -- entry and exit of --

QUESTION: I know. Listen, I’m not --

MR. VENTRELL: -- outside visitors, so --

QUESTION: -- I just want to know what the policy is. I’m not saying – I am not suggesting that there’s anything wrong, necessarily, with it. I just wanted to know what the policy was.

MR. VENTRELL: I mean, we’re a federal building and we share information as necessary with other federal agencies on law enforcement matters.



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