Feds snoop reporters

White House linked to seizure of phone records of Associated Press reporters, staff
Associated Press
May 14, 2013

The Justice Department secretly obtained two months of telephone records of reporters and editors for The Associated Press in what the news cooperative's top executive called a "massive and unprecedented intrusion" into how news organizations gather the news.

The records obtained by the Justice Department listed outgoing calls for the work and personal phone numbers of individual reporters, for general AP office numbers in New York, Washington and Hartford, Conn., and for the main number for the AP in the House of Representatives press gallery, according to attorneys for the AP. It was not clear if the records also included incoming calls or the duration of the calls.

In all, the government seized the records for more than 20 separate telephone lines assigned to AP and its journalists in April and May of 2012. The exact number of journalists who used the phone lines during that period is unknown, but more than a hundred journalists work in the offices where phone records were targeted, on a wide array of stories about government and other matters.

In a letter of protest sent to Attorney General Eric Holder on Monday, AP President and Chief Executive Officer Gary Pruitt said the government sought and obtained information far beyond anything that could be justified by any specific investigation. He demanded the return of the phone records and destruction of all copies.

"There can be no possible justification for such an overbroad collection of the telephone communications of The Associated Press and its reporters. These records potentially reveal communications with confidential sources across all of the newsgathering activities undertaken by the AP during a two-month period, provide a road map to AP's newsgathering operations and disclose information about AP's activities and operations that the government has no conceivable right to know," Pruitt said.

The government would not say why it sought the records. Officials have previously said in public testimony that the U.S. attorney in Washington is conducting a criminal investigation into who may have provided information contained in a May 7, 2012, AP story about a foiled terror plot. The story disclosed details of a CIA operation in Yemen that stopped an al-Qaida plot in the spring of 2012 to detonate a bomb on an airplane bound for the United States.

In testimony in February, CIA Director John Brennan noted that the FBI had questioned him about whether he was AP's source, which he denied. He called the release of the information to the media about the terror plot an "unauthorized and dangerous disclosure of classified information."

Prosecutors have sought phone records from reporters before, but the seizure of records from such a wide array of AP offices, including general AP switchboards numbers and an office-wide shared fax line, is unusual.

In the letter notifying the AP, which was received Friday, the Justice Department offered no explanation for the seizure, according to Pruitt's letter and attorneys for the AP. The records were presumably obtained from phone companies earlier this year although the government letter did not explain that. None of the information provided by the government to the AP suggested the actual phone conversations were monitored.

Among those whose phone numbers were obtained were five reporters and an editor who were involved in the May 7, 2012, story.

The Obama administration has aggressively investigated disclosures of classified information to the media and has brought six cases against people suspected of providing classified information, more than under all previous presidents combined.

The White House on Monday said that other than press reports it had no knowledge of Justice Department attempts to seek AP phone records.

"We are not involved in decisions made in connection with criminal investigations, as those matters are handled independently by the Justice Department," spokesman Jay Carney said.

Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., chairman of the investigative House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said on CNN, "They had an obligation to look for every other way to get it before they intruded on the freedom of the press."

Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said in an emailed statement: "The burden is always on the government when they go after private information, especially information regarding the press or its confidential sources. ... On the face of it, I am concerned that the government may not have met that burden. I am very troubled by these allegations and want to hear the government's explanation."

The American Civil Liberties Union said the use of subpoenas for a broad swath of records has a chilling effect both on journalists and whistleblowers who want to reveal government wrongdoing. "The attorney general must explain the Justice Department's actions to the public so that we can make sure this kind of press intimidation does not happen again," said Laura Murphy, the director of ACLU's Washington legislative office.

Rules published by the Justice Department require that subpoenas of records of news organizations must be personally approved by the attorney general, but it was not known if that happened in this case. The letter notifying AP that its phone records had been obtained through subpoenas was sent Friday by Ronald Machen, the U.S. attorney in Washington.

William Miller, a spokesman for Machen, said Monday that in general the U.S. attorney follows "all applicable laws, federal regulations and Department of Justice policies when issuing subpoenas for phone records of media organizations." But he would not address questions about the specifics of the AP records. "We do not comment on ongoing criminal investigations," Miller said in an email.

The Justice Department lays out strict rules for efforts to get phone records from news organizations. A subpoena can be considered only after "all reasonable attempts" have been made to get the same information from other sources, the rules say. It was unclear what other steps, in total, the Justice Department might have taken to get information in the case.

A subpoena to the media must be "as narrowly drawn as possible" and "should be directed at relevant information regarding a limited subject matter and should cover a reasonably limited time period," according to the rules.

The reason for these constraints, the department says, is to avoid actions that "might impair the news gathering function" because the government recognizes that "freedom of the press can be no broader than the freedom of reporters to investigate and report the news."

News organizations normally are notified in advance that the government wants phone records and then they enter into negotiations over the desired information. In this case, however, the government, in its letter to the AP, cited an exemption to those rules that holds that prior notification can be waived if such notice, in the exemption's wording, might "pose a substantial threat to the integrity of the investigation."

It is unknown whether a judge or a grand jury signed off on the subpoenas.

Arnie Robbins, executive director of the American Society of News Editors, said, "On the face of it, this is really a disturbing affront to a free press. It's also troubling because it is consistent with perhaps the most aggressive administration ever against reporters doing their jobs — providing information that citizens need to know about our government."

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., a potential 2016 presidential candidate, said: "The Fourth Amendment is not just a protection against unreasonable searches and seizures, it is a fundamental protection for the First Amendment and all other Constitutional rights. It sets a high bar — a warrant — for the government to take actions that could chill exercise of any of those rights. We must guard it with all the vigor that we guard other constitutional protections."

The May 7, 2012, AP story that disclosed details of the CIA operation in Yemen to stop an airliner bomb plot occurred around the one-year anniversary of the May 2, 2011, killing of Osama bin Laden.

The plot was significant both because of its seriousness and also because the White House previously had told the public it had "no credible information that terrorist organizations, including al-Qaida, are plotting attacks in the U.S. to coincide with the (May 2) anniversary of bin Laden's death."

The AP delayed reporting the story at the request of government officials who said it would jeopardize national security. Once officials said those concerns were allayed, the AP disclosed the plot, though the Obama administration continued to request that the story be held until the administration could make an official announcement.

The May 7 story was written by reporters Matt Apuzzo and Adam Goldman with contributions from reporters Kimberly Dozier, Eileen Sullivan and Alan Fram. They and their editor, Ted Bridis, were among the journalists whose April-May 2012 phone records were seized by the government.

Brennan talked about the AP story and investigation in written testimony to the Senate. "The irresponsible and damaging leak of classified information was made ... when someone informed The Associated Press that the U.S. government had intercepted an IED (improvised explosive device) that was supposed to be used in an attack and that the U.S. government currently had that IED in its possession and was analyzing it," he wrote.

He also defended the White House decision to discuss the plot afterward. "Once someone leaked information about interdiction of the IED and that the IED was actually in our possession, it was imperative to inform the American people consistent with government policy that there was never any danger to the American people associated with this al-Qaida plot," Brennan told senators.

Comments

zachfromsandusky2

There have been more than a few thing in this administration's tenure that are impeachable but people from all parties refuse to open their eyes to see and stand up and say we have had enough. The top 3 being Benghazi, fast and furious and now this. When the he'll will people wake up. The Boston bombing was bs then two days later while Obama was having his secret meeting with Saudi diplomats and departing a Syrian national who was originally a suspect in the bombing while everyone's attention was shortly detered to the "explosion" at the Waco fertilizer plant. Then they shut the entire city down ordering people to stay home and not to drive or go anywhere. Hmmm? Then they militarized the police and started going door to door searching houses violating home owner 4th amendment rights that are supposed to protect their right against illegal search and or seizure. Hmmmm to me that seems like a successful trial run of MARTIAL LAW !!!!!!!!!! SMFH! Wake up people! They are trying to get our guns so they can dictate us and order martial law!

The Big Dog's back

So, the Republican-appointed Commissioner of the IRS resigned in Nov. 20012, after a failure to keep a lid on this office.

This 'scandal' isn't about pissant Tea Party groups--it's about the fact that Karl Rove's group was outed before he wanted it to be. And it's about the fact that plenty of these groups are filing now, for the 2014 election, and you aren't supposed to know about them.

swiss cheese kat

The administration of the guy who allegedly taught constitutional law for 12 years at University of Chicago should know and act better.

SamAdams

It sounds to me like you think the IRS Commissioner and Karl Rove's group weren't on the up-and-up, and it sounds like you disapprove. Okay, good: Me, too. So now explain to me why it's okay if Obama does it! I won't hold my breath...

Centauri

http://www.breitbart.com/Big-Gov...
"The ACLU released a report this week that shows that under Obama and his Attorney General Eric Holder, warrantless wiretapping and monitoring of American's electronic communications is "sharply on the rise.""

http://rt.com/usa/obama-internet...
"United States President Barack Obama is likely to endorse a Federal Bureau of Investigation effort that would ensure all Internet companies in the US provide a way for the government to conduct undetected, backdoor surveillance."

Centauri

http://news.cnet.com/8301-10784_...
"Obama: No warrantless wiretaps if you elect me"

sash

?? There were no wiretaps. Phone records were subpoenaed after the fact.

Contango

FYI:

Pres. Obama made a "joke" about using the IRS against "enemies" in 2009:

"President Crow and the Board of Regents will soon learn all about being audited by the IRS."

Funny guy.

Read more: http://www.azcentral.com/12news/...

Contango

"Jon Stewart Destroys Obama Over The IRS Scandal":

Read more: http://www.businessinsider.com/j...

luvblues2

ROTFLMFAO!!..Gotta love Jon Stewart..He gives both sides the full punch they so well deserve...

Centauri

From Contango's link.

"Stewart said Obama has now lent a hand to every "tin-foil behatted" conspiracy theorist.

"Well, congratulations, President Barack Obama," Stewart said. "Conspiracy theorists, who generally can survive in anaerobic environments, just had an algae bloom dropped on their f—ing heads — thus, removing the last arrow in your pro-governance quiver: Skepticism about your opponents."

http://www.clubfrontier.org/foru...

Contango

Welcome to the new world of political witch-hunting now known as "Obamanism":

Tea Parties and others who wished to form a 501(c)(4) organization were 'essentially' asked:

Are you now or have you ever been a member of a conservative or anti-socialist organization?

Pete

Could you imagine the uproar if they had asked:

Are you now or have you ever been a Progressive?

At what age did you move out of your parent's basement?

If you are still in their basement, do you at least pay rent or utilities?

Contango

Re: The DOJ/AP story.

Remember - Eric Holder’s fingerprints are all over the Branch Davidian cult massacre in Waco and the shootings at Ruby Ridge.

Why is this fascist still AG?

Ever notice how when people around Pres. Obama become a political liability he disses 'em?

Maybe it's time for Pres. Obama to 'pull' a 'Jeremiah Wright' and say: Eric who?

Contango

"David Axelrod, told MSNBC. 'Part of being president is there’s so much beneath you that you can’t know because the government is so vast,'”

I thought that the lovesick slobbering sycophants believed that Barack Obama was the SMARTEST guy to ever occupy the WH?

To me, he tended to look like the Incompetent-in-Chief. Maybe smokin' too much "choom"?

Good to see that Mr. Axelrod is FINALLY comin' around to my way of thinking.

http://www.nationalreview.com/co...

The Big Dog's back

Your way of thinking? That's easy. You don't.

Contango

Pres. Obama's choice for Commerce Sec'y had offshore bank accounts:

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/20...

Tres. Sec'y Jack Lew had Cayman Is. accounts.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/mi...

Obama sheeple thinking is so ignorantly hypocritical:

Mitt Romney offshore bank accounts - BAD.

Pres. Obama's cabinet picks offshore bank accounts - NO PROBLEM.

OSUBuckeye59

The chief activity of our federal government these days seems to be investigating itself. Guess Congress & Obama think our economy is doing terrific, unemployment is in check, healthcare costs are decreasing, and everybody's peachy keen. Either that or I somehow missed that marijuana use is now legal in D.C.

Contango

@ OSUBuckeye59:

Heard part of an interview yesterday with Rick Santelli of CNBC fame.

The question was asked: Why doesn't Pres. Obama take credit for the rising stock mkt. (GOOD QUESTION!)

The answer: Because his core constituency are not the ones benefiting from it.

Interesting huh?

OSUBuckeye59

@ Contango,

I think that must be one of the hardest acting parts for the President and his fellow Democratic Party brethren: Standing in front of throngs or a camera preaching about how you're "for the people" without giving any indication your back pockets are being non-stop stuffed with money from big business donors/lobbyists.

OSUBuckeye59

Saying it's been a rough week in the Obama administration is like saying it gets a little humid in Ohio during the summer . . . new allegations by whistle-blowers at the State Dept. that top officials failed to respond in an honest and timely manner to the terrorist attack in Benghazi . . . admission by the IRS that 2 years ago they targeted conservative political groups, particularly those affiliated with the Tea Party, in order to challenge their tax-exempt status . . . and finally, finding out that last year the DOJ secretly obtained phone records from the the offices, homes and cell phones of potentially 100 or more AP journalists in an apparent effort to uncover the source of a leak about a foiled terrorist plot in Yemen.

If the GOP is perhaps a bit quick to shout "Watergate" at times like this, many Democrats seem to believe that what happened during Watergate was wrong only because Republicans were doing it. Using the IRS against political enemies didn't start with Nixon; the Kennedy administration ordered tax audits of steel industry officials when their companies raised prices back in '62. But the main difference is that while the Nixon and Obama administrations first denied and then repudiated their transgressions; Kennedy's minions bragged about it.

History shows our freedoms are never more at risk than when they are being trampled upon to popular applause.

Here's a thought: what if we limited presidents to one 6-year term?

One can easily argue against this by saying six years is too long for a bad president and not long enough for a good one, provided we could even get a clear majority consensus with any president being considered good. But I think History could support the idea of a single term of 6 years for a President . . .

While I'm glad Carter didn't have another two years, just as most Democrats are glad George H.W. Bush didn't, it's unlikely either eventuality would have been a disaster. But starting with FDR, it's hard to name a president whose 7th & 8th years in office were wildly successful.

From the stalled economy at the end of Eisenhower's 2nd term to Watergate for Nixon, Iran-Contra for Reagan, Monica Lewinsky for Clinton, and finally, Iraq and the economic crisis for G.W. Bush, it's not apparent to me that our United States would have suffered had all of our "modern" presidents been limited to a single 6-year term.

History isn't destiny, of course, but the power of the modern presidency already gives an incumbent a strong home-court advantage in any re-election bid, and the temptation to marshal the immense resources of that office in order to hold onto power is an even greater danger today than when the 22nd Amendment was ratified in '51.

Ultimately, there is no magic bullet, nor is there any alternative to eternal vigilance when safeguarding our rights, our privileges and our privacy. But institutional changes may help enhance the likelihood such vigilance will be effective. It's time to think seriously about ending the spectacle of an incumbent president spending a year or more of a four-year term fixated on holding onto what many say is the toughest job in the world rather than simply doing the job.

OSUBuckeye59

Oh who am I kidding? In today's fractious political environment, no term of any length will matter because whichever party candidate gets elected, the opposition party will entrench and attempt to block any and all initiatives by the sitting POTUS for however long they're in office.

Centauri

http://rt.com/usa/cia-ap-probe-h...
"CIA approved AP report that triggered investigation"

Contango

It only keeps lookin' more politically dire for Pres. Obama:

"The Treasury Department's internal watchdog, J. Russell George, told the House panel that Deputy Treasury Secretary Neal Wolin, an Obama political appointee, LEARNED NEARLY A YEAR AGO (emphasis mine) that a government watchdog was looking into inappropriate targeting by the IRS."

Read more: http://www.businessinsider.com/i...

If BHO wants even a SLIM chance of saving his presidency, IMO he oughta fire a TON of people (like AG Holder) - AND FAST!

Even if these scandals (Benghazi, AP/DOJ & IRS) are the result of incompetency or poor judgment, a cover-up by the Obama Admin. only makes them complicit in the buffoonery.

Joe Biden for President - 2013

Contango

"I don't remember what room the president was in on that night (Benghazi), and that's a largely irrelevant fact."

- Obama aide Dan Pfeiffer

Oh, but the whole country got to see that nice photo op of where Pres. Obama and Sec'y of State Clinton were the night that Seal Team Six killed bin Laden didn't we???

http://www.weeklystandard.com/bl...

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