The initial order, Mr. Vigilante said in a separate account CNN published online, demanded data that would cover more than 30,000 emails, including about 26,000 that were internal and so could not have had anything to do with a leak investigation. In September, the network asked a court to narrow the scope of the order, he said.
A magistrate judge in the Eastern District of Virginia — Theresa Carroll Buchanan, CNN said — said at an Oct. 7 hearing that the Justice Department should narrow the order, but two days later the department provided her with a secret filing its lawyers could not see.
Two weeks later, Mr. Vigilante said, she ordered CNN to comply with the original, full demand for Ms. Starr’s email records. In November, the network appealed that decision, and the following month Judge Anthony Trenga, a district court judge, held a hearing and then directed the department to narrow the scope of its request.
Mr. Vigilante quoted the judge as expressing skepticism about the government’s explanation for why Ms. Starr’s email logs were relevant, portraying prosecutors’ theory as based on “speculative predictions, assumptions and scenarios unanchored in any facts.”
He also said the judge said at the hearing, “The requested information by its nature is too attenuated and not sufficiently connected to any evidence relevant, material or useful to the government’s ascribed investigation, particularly when considered in light of the First Amendment activities that it relates to.”
On Jan. 15, just before the Trump administration left office, the department asked the judge to reconsider, CNN said. Then on Jan. 26, six days after Mr. Biden’s inauguration, the network’s lawyers sat down with prosecutors and struck a deal to produce what a CNN reporter described as “a limited number of email records — essentially records that the government already had from its side of these communications.”
That deal ended the fight, CNN said, although the executives who knew about the fight remained under gag order until recently. The network also said it did not know that Ms. Starr’s phone records and data from her personal email account had separately been seized until the Justice Department notified her in May.