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

Pete

Just another typical day at the Obama/Holder InJustice Department.

What I find interesting is AP appears stunned by this.

Contango

Just let the POTUS speak for himself:

"I screwed up" - President Barack Obama, 2/3/09

"They'll warn that tyranny is always lurking just around the corner. You should reject these voices."

- Pres. Obama, May 5, 2013

"We’re gonna punish our enemies and we’re gonna reward our friends." (Barack Obama, Oct. 25, 2010)

swiss cheese kat's picture
swiss cheese kat

Can you imagine the press being this silent if Bush were the President?

Mime Bloggling's picture
Mime Bloggling

Not surprising for an administration who used the IRS to intimidate conservative groups during an election year. Oh...and BENGHAZI...you know the cover-up? The story the Sandusky Register refuses to cover. Oh, and GOSNELL...convicted of 3 counts of first degree murder of 3 babies..you know Dr. Kermit Gosnell the abortionist who severed spinal cords of babies who were breathing and moving...another story the Register refuses to cover.

SamAdams

When Richard Nixon did things like this, we called it criminal (because it was). When John Ashcroft and George W. Bush gained all of those nefarious powers under the woefully misnamed USA PATRIOT Act, the left screamed (so did some on the right, and all of them were right to do so).

Now we discover what Eric Holder (who may be the most egregiously law-breaking Attorney General in history) and Barack Obama (who is arguably the most unqualified man ever to sit in the Oval Office) are engaging in is just the kind of behaviors any real American condemns in no uncertain terms.

This isn't about the President being a black man. It's not about him being a Democrat. It's not even about birther conspiracy theories or whether or not Mr. Obama is a "closet" Muslim. It's about crime, plain and simple.

When Watergate was ramping up, Richard Nixon purportedly said, "It's not illegal if the President does it." So, Obama fans, are you prepared to declare Nixon right? Or are you finally ready to remove the blinders and see just what kind of man and what kind of administration we've saddled ourselves with?

Contango

As F.A. Hayek so brilliantly noted in the "Road to Serfdom":

The best intentioned legislation and govenmental powers WILL eventually be used for negative purposes.

Nemesis

And we have the Democrats on record as to the proper response to these antics:

"He has, through his subordinated and agents, endeavored…to cause, in violation of the constitutional rights of citizens, income tax audits or other income tax investigation to be initiated or conducted in a discriminatory manner" — Section 1, Article 2, the impeachment articles of Richard Nixon.

The Big Dog's back

Let me clarify for you sam your use of the term "real American". Real American= right wingnut.

deertracker

"There's no there There"! So true. Give it a rest people. Was he suppose to go in the phone booth and come out a super hero? It is tragic when anyone is killed, even those Americans that are killed daily......by other Americans in America. Where's the outrage? This type of stuff has been going on for decades and in this case no laws were broken. You people never quit. Ever!!!!!!!!

Contango

The ABOVE STORY is about the Obama Admin. recording AP reporters and editors - you OK with that?

Pete

He has to try deflection to take away from the focus of the story.

One cannot have the Progressive Messiah portrayed in a bad light.

Contango

Yea, ABC News uncovered the 12 WH email alterations on the Benghazi talking points.

CBS's Bob Schieffer also seemed a little miffed about being lied to by Susan Rice.

And Rep. Elijah Cummings (D) wants to interview the original State Dept. investigation panel and witnesses.

Guess it just ain't a "Faux" News witch-hunt huh?

Licorice Schtick

Contrary to your statement, this story does not report "recording AP reporters and editors." But to learn that , you need to read way past all the fake indignation over the Justice Department's dutiful investigation of an illegal leak that potentially helps terrorists.

The story plays into the conservative agenda of attacking the President at every turn. "Liberal media"? Seriously?

deertracker

The ABOVE STORY is about the DOJ. Reread the article please. GIVE IT A REST!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Contango

deertracker writes:

"The ABOVE STORY is about the DOJ. Reread the article please."

Here, let me give you a link since your scrolling wheel appears to be malfunctioning:

http://www.sanduskyregister.com/...

Answer the question:

So are you OK with the DOJ (A dept. WITHIN the Obama Admin.) recording AP reporter and editor calls?

Licorice Schtick

You're changing the subject. "Recording AP reporter and editor calls" is not what was alleged, contrary to your misstatement in your earlier comment.

So answer the question: are you OK with the DOJ investigating an illegal leak that potentially helps terrorists?

Contango

@ LS:

Mea culpa: "Phone records."

However: Do the American people have a right to know what their govt. is doin'?

The bigger question and problem for the Obama Admin.:

Do you think that the press corp. is taking this action kindly?

anthras

"There's no there There" then why the cover up ???????? Maybe it was that it happened prior to the elections ?

deertracker

What cover up????????????????????????????? Your boy Romney lost. Get over it already.

I

You can take the boy out the city(Chicago), but you can't take the city out of the boy...waiting for the racist accusations!

deertracker

That's not a racist comment because it is a stupid one.

I

So, what's stupid about my comment? That Obama is from Chicago? That Chicago politics are dirty? That using the word "boy" usually invokes a racist rant from the left and from you in particular? Yeah, right, it's my comment that is stupid.

The Big Dog's back

Nah. Just you.

I

Typical. Way to defend your guy!

Pete

The poor little liberal's heads are exploding over this.

The corrupt administration and its minions are finally exposed for what they are:
Liars and lawbreakers.

Hey! I have a deflection idea for you! BLAME BUSH!

The Big Dog's back

Hardly. But have fun with it.

Contango

Who watches the Watchers?

Maggdi

They need no watching my friend. As they are the epitome of Saints. Or, uhhh, Community organizer's.... Here, only to show us the way.

SamAdams

WE (as in "We the People") are supposed to be watching! And too many of us are too lazy, too ignorant, or too compliant to be bothered. That's another reason a LEGITIMATE media is crucial to legitimate (read "constitutional") government. We haven't had anywhere near enough of that kind of media in recent years, either!

Given the reporting now, though, and the outrage among those claiming allegiance to both major political parties, we can only hope that may be about to change...

Maggdi

It's so weird to realize that this is what a worm turning looks like..... ;)
His minions should not have messed with the palace guards.....
And I ain't talkin' about the Secret Service....

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