Considered posting on skeptics or politics, so please let me know if this should be moved.

Donald Trump Jr. recently posted the email exchange between him and Rob Goldstone to his twitter feed.


However, my question concerns something brought up by the Times.

Told that The Times was going to publish the contents of his emails, he went into damage-control mode, hastily posting photos of the email chain, along with a statement, minutes before The Times published its story.

Assuming that the Times didn't obtain the emails from any of the parties involved (Rob Goldstone, Donald Trump Jr., Paul Manafort, Jared Kushner), how could they have legally obtained the emails? I understand the idea of anonymous sources, but would an aide or some other person with access to this account not be breaching some sort of privacy laws by sharing emails like this? Are there laws protecting journalists that obtain information illegally?


1 Answer 1


There is no law against receiving such information, or publishing it. Bartnicki v. Vopper establishes that even if information was obtained illegally (e.g. hacking email), if the publisher does not know it was illegally obtained, they are not liable. Boehner v. McDermott determined that a party who knows that material is illegally obtained and did not participate in obtaining the material is not liable. In contrast, in Peavey v. WFAA, the publisher advised ("procured") the intruder to intrude, and was held liable. Under the assumption that the NYT obtained the material after the fact, they would not have broken any law. Someone else may have.

  • I guess there could be complications depending on exactly how the information was obtained, but this addresses the issue of first amendment v. legality of information, which was most of my question. I'd be interested how this affects the way journalists go about obtaining this kind of information without being perceived as procuring it, but i suppose thats a different question.
    – Wolfgang
    Jul 13, 2017 at 1:02
  • That seems to encourage a strong left hand/right hand ignorance. Mar 5, 2020 at 15:09

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