▶ Watch Video: New York Times reporter whose phone records were secretly obtained by Justice Department says freedom of press is under threat

Four New York Times reporters had their phone records secretly seized by the Trump administration. But while similar reports from CNN and the Washington Post are seemingly uncovering the extent to which former President Trump used the administration to keep tabs on journalists, one of the four journalists says the moves are part of a “bipartisan pattern.”

“It happened in the Obama administration as well, which is why frankly I was angry but not surprised,” White House reporter Matt Apuzzo said on CBSN Monday. “This U.S. Attorney’s office in Washington has a history of just steamrolling the First Amendment.”

He compared it to tactics used by “prosecutors trying to break up a drug ring.” 

The Biden administration alerted the New York Times reporters that the former president’s DOJ had seized records spanning across four months in 2017. 

This latest revelation came after the outlet reported that a number of Times executives were aware of the government’s efforts earlier this year, but were bound by a gag order that prevented them from sharing the information with their own editor and newsroom. 

Apuzzo still doesn’t know what the Justice Department was looking for, but believes it is related to a story on decisions made by James Comey in 2016.

“This story touched on maybe the most consequential period in FBI history, when the FBI was essentially investigating both major candidates for president,” he said. 

The New York Times reported early in 2020 that the Justice Department had begun investigating a media leak tied to the FBI’s investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails.

Mr. Biden’s Justice Department vowed to stop the covert seizure of reporters’ communication records during leak investigations, in a policy reversal announced Saturday. 

The president called the policy and the actions it caused “simply wrong” in May.

“Of course I do not take them at their word,” Apuzzo said. “How did it happen? Why did it happen? There were rules, they went through this under the Obama administration and the rules were supposed to change.”

He pointed to past administrations across both parties using classified information leaks as an excuse to seize journalists’ records — which he dismissed as a “red herring.”

“In Washington, D.C., you don’t get subpoenaed for writing about classified stuff, you get subpoenaed for writing about stuff the government doesn’t like,” he said. 

“Nobody gets in trouble for writing about the bin Laden raid, you get subpoenaed when you make the president or the Justice Department angry, and that’s what this is about.”

He criticized the policy as giving “dictators and strongmen around the world the cover” to target journalists — something that has been a growing problem in places like Eastern Europe where increasingly authoritarian governments are tightening their chokehold on independent media outlets.

“That is the message that, frankly, politicians in both parties are sending around the world,” Apuzzo said.