WASHINGTON — The special counsel who investigated Russia’s 2016 election interference, Robert S. Mueller III, scrutinized “a member of the news media suspected of participating in the conspiracy” to hack Democrats and make their emails public, the Justice Department disclosed on Wednesday.
The deputy attorney general at the time, Rod J. Rosenstein, who was overseeing the Russia investigation, approved a subpoena in 2018 for the unnamed person’s phone and email records. He also approved seeking a voluntary interview with that person and then issuing a subpoena to force the person to testify before a grand jury, the department said.
“All of this information was necessary to further the investigation of whether the member of the news media was involved in the conspiracy to unlawfully obtain and utilize the information from the hacked political party or other victims,” the department said.
No member of the news media was charged with conspiring in the hack-and-dump operation, and the disclosure on Wednesday left many questions unanswered.
It did not say why the person was suspected of participating in a conspiracy to interfere with the 2016 election, or whether that person ever testified before a grand jury.
Nor did it define “member of the news media” to clarify whether that narrowly meant a traditional journalist or could broadly extend to various types of commentators on current events. (For example, it has been known since September 2018 that Jerome Corsi, a conspiracy theorist and political commentator, was subpoenaed that year.)
A Justice Department spokesman declined to provide further clarity, and several former law enforcement officials who were familiar with the Mueller investigation did not respond to requests for information.
The disclosure of the scrutiny of a member of the news media was contained in a revision to a report issued by the Trump administration about investigative activities that affected or involved the news media in 2018. The Trump-era version of that report had omitted the episode.
The Justice Department under President Biden also issued reports on Wednesday covering such investigative activities in 2019, which the Trump-era department failed to issue, and in 2020. And it provided new details about leak investigations at the end of the Trump administration that sought records for reporters with CNN, The Washington Post and The New York Times.
The report for 2019 disclosed another investigative matter apparently related to the special counsel’s office, which by then had issued its final report and closed down. During the prosecution of one of the people who was charged with “obstructing the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election,” a U.S. attorney authorized subpoenaing an unnamed member of the news media for testimony, and that person agreed to comply.
Prosecutors, however, ultimately did not call that person to testify at the trial. The report did not say whether any subpoena was issued, or whether obtaining one was merely approved. Nor did it say what the person would have testified about.
It also did not say whether it was referring to the trial of Roger J. Stone Jr., Mr. Trump’s longtime friend, which took place in 2019. Mr. Stone was charged, among other things, with obstructing one of Congress’s Russia investigations; he was convicted, but then pardoned by Mr. Trump.
The 2019 report also glancingly discussed two previously unknown episodes in which the Justice Department investigated members of the news media for “offenses arising from news gathering activities” without saying what those allegations were.
One section of the report briefly discussed an investigation into one member of the news media for such offenses. It said the attorney…