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The New York Times logo is seen on a newspaper rack at a convenience store in Washington, D.C., on August 6, 2019. CPJ and RCFP filed a lawsuit on August 8 seeking documents in a leak investigation involving a Times reporter. (AFP/Alastair Pike)

CPJ, RCFP file lawsuit seeking documents in leak investigation

August 9, 2019 12:53 PM ET

Yesterday, the Committee to Protect Journalists and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press (RCFP) filed a lawsuit against the United States government seeking to obtain documents concerning steps taken by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to investigate leakers and to identify journalists’ sources.

In May, CPJ and RCFP filed a joint Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request seeking the documents, after learning that CBP agent Jeffrey Rambo was in contact with New York Times reporter Ali Watkins using a personal email address.

As CPJ reported in 2018, the leak investigation into Watkins’ sources was the first time the Trump administration targeted a journalist and seized a reporters’ communications records.

As the lawsuit describes, Rambo met with Watkins in June 2017, and told her he had been relocated to Washington, D.C., from San Diego, California, to “help identify government officials who were ‘leaking’ information to members of the news media, and asked Ms. Watkins for her help in doing so.”

The suit seeks to make public a range government documents that would shine a light on how CBP is conducting leak investigations—including emails from Rambo’s non-governmental email account, and communications to CBP containing the phrases “leak” or “unauthorized disclosure.”

In the lawsuit filed today, CPJ and RCFP argue that CBP has failed to meet legal deadlines required by FOIA, and ask the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to order immediate processing of the documents sought in the May filing.

Read our court filings here:

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