‘No Possible Justification’: Associated Press Livid After DOJ Secretly Obtains 2 Months Of Its Phone Records – The Blaze
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 revelation comes just days after it was first reported that the Internal Revenue Service has been “inappropriately” targeting conservative political groups and that Benghazi whistle-blowers (Gregory Hicks, Mark Thompson, and Eric Nordstrom) were instructed by White House officials to keep quiet about the deadly Sept. 11, 2012, attacks.
The records obtained by the Justice Department listed incoming and outgoing calls, and the duration of each call, for the work and home phone numbers of individual reporters, general AP office numbers in New York, Washington and Hartford, Conn., and the main number for AP reporters in the House of Representatives press gallery, according to attorneys for the AP.
In all, the government seized those 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 100 journalists work in the offices whose 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.
“We regard this action by the Department of Justice as a serious interference with AP’s constitutional rights to gather and report the news,” the letter continues.
The government would not say why it sought the records. U.S. officials have previously said in public testimony that the U.S. attorney in Washington is conducting a criminal investigation into who may have leaked 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 incomparable.
In the letter notifying the AP 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 leaking classified information, more than under all previous presidents combined.
Justice Department published rules require that subpoenas of records from 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 though subpoenas was sent Friday by Ronald Machen, the U.S. attorney in Washington.
Spokesmen in Machen’s office and at the Justice Department had no immediate comment on Monday.
The Justice Department lays out strict rules for efforts to get phone records from news organizations. A subpoena can only be considered 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 has 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 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.
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 because the White House 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 government officials said those concerns were allayed, the AP disclosed the plot because officials said it no longer endangered national security. The Obama administration, however, 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 leaks 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 said.
He also defended the White House’s plan to discuss the plot immediately 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-Qa’ida plot,” Brennan told senators.
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Carl Bernstein: AP Phone Scandal A ‘Nuclear Event’ – News Max
Investigative reporter Carl Bernstein on Tuesday called the scandal involving the Department of Justice securing telephone records of Associated Press reporters and editors a “nuclear event.”
“This is outrageous,” Bernstein said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” “It is totally inexcusable. This administration has been terrible on this subject from the beginning.
“The object of it is to intimidate people who talk to reporters,” he said. “This was an accident waiting to become a nuclear event, and now it’s happened.”
The AP reported late Monday afternoon that the “Justice Department secretly obtained two months of telephone records of reporters and editors for The Associated Press.”
The organization was not told the reason for the seizure. But the timing and the specific journalistic targets strongly suggest they are related to a continuing government investigation into the leaking of information a year ago about the CIA’s disruption of a Yemen-based terrorist plot to bomb an airliner, The New York Times reported.
The development represents the latest collision of news organizations and federal investigators over government efforts to prevent the disclosure of national security information, and it comes against a backdrop of an aggressive policy by the Obama administration to rein in leaks, according to The New York Times.
Under President Barack Obama, six current and former government officials have been indicted in leak-related cases, twice the number brought under all previous administrations combined.
“The numerical thing doesn’t matter,” said Bernstein, a former Washington Post reporter who, along with Bob Woodward, broke the Watergate scandal that brought down President Richard Nixon. “What matters is, this is a matter of policy. It is known to the president of the United States that this is the policy. To say that there was no knowledge, in quotes, specifically about this in the White House is nonsense.”
“This is a policy matter, and this does go to the president and the people around him,” he said. “The idea is to try and make an example of those people who talk to reporters, especially on national security matters. National security is always the false claim of administrations trying to hide things that people ought to know.”
That the Justice Department sought records of phone calls made over congressional phone lines could also raise a separation of powers issue between the administration and legislative branches of government.
“The First Amendment is first for a reason,” House Speaker John Boehner spokesman Michael Steel tells Newsmax. “If the Obama administration is going after reporters’ phone records, they better have a damned good explanation.”
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Holder To Answer On Wednesday For Justice Dept. Snooping On AP Reporters – Washington Times
Angry Republicans won’t have to wait long for their chance to question Attorney General Eric Holder about his role in the Justice Department’s snooping on Associated Press journalists.
Long before news broke on Monday that Justice had gathered extensive phone records from reporters and editors at The AP, Mr. Holder already had been scheduled to appear before the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday afternoon.
The hearing, ironically titled “Oversight of the U.S. Department of Justice,” now will become the first forum for House Republicans to hammer Mr. Holder over what critics are calling another stunning abuse of power by an administration that’s being crushed under the growing weight of multiple running scandals.
Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. Robert Goodlatte, Virginia Republican, says he plans to ask Mr. Holder “pointed questions” about the issue when he testifies on Wednesday.
Rep. Darrell Issa, the chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee who has frequently clashed with the Department over the long-running “Fast and Furious” gunrunning scandal, also is demanding answers.
“Americans should notice that top Obama administration officials increasingly see themselves as above the law and emboldened by the belief that they don’t have to answer to anyone,” Mr. Issa, California Republican, said in a statement. “I will work with my fellow House chairmen on an appropriate response to Obama administration officials.”
Rep. Frank Wolf, Virginia Republican, told The Hill newspaper that the incident is reminiscent of Watergate.
“It is the arrogance of power and paranoia. I think it’s shocking. It reminds me of the Nixon days,” he said. ‘If they can do it to The AP, they can do [it] to any news service in the country.”
The AP broke the news Monday that the Justice Department had gathered two months of telephone records from April and May 2012. The records included incoming and outgoing calls, how long each call lasted, the phone numbers of various reporters and editors and other information.
The federal government reportedly was seeking information on a May 7, 2012, AP article detailing how the CIA had derailed a planned al Qaeda-linked group. The story was published a day before President Obama planned to publicly announce the attack had been foiled, the AP said.
Much like the response to recent revelations that the Internal Revenue Service targeted conservative groups, even Democrats are taking aim at the White House over the AP phone scandal.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, Vermont Democrat, said he’s “very troubled” by the news and questions whether the Justice Department truly needed to resort to secretly gathering phone records.
“The burden is always on the government when they go after private information — especially information regarding the press or its confidential sources,” he said. “I want to know more about this case, but on the face of it, I am concerned that the government may not have met that burden.”
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Obama Hailed ‘World Press Freedom Day’ As His DOJ Was Seizing AP Phone Records – CNS
President Barack Obama issued a statement heralding World Press Freedom Day in May 2012, at the same time his Department of Justice was secretly obtaining phone records from Associated Press reporters and editors.
“On this World Press Freedom Day, the United States honors the role of a free press in creating sustainable democracies and prosperous societies,” Obama said in a statement on May 3, 2012. “We pay special tribute to those journalists who have sacrificed their lives, freedom or personal well-being in pursuit of truth and justice.”
The AP disclosed on Monday that the Justice Department obtained telephone records of 20 separate lines, including all outgoing calls and personal phone numbers, in April and May of 2012. The AP is the world’s largest wire service serving newspapers, websites and broadcast media.
“We call on all governments to protect the ability of journalists, bloggers, and dissidents to write and speak freely without retribution and to stop the use of travel bans and other indirect forms of censorship to suppress the exercise of these universal rights,” Obama said in the May 3, 2012 statement.
Obama issued a similar statement for World Press Freedom Day in 2011, 2010 and 2009, but not for 2013.
Obama did not issue a written statement this year, but referenced it while in Costa Rica on May 3.
“I’m proud to be here as you host World Press Freedom Day,” Obama said on May 3, 2013 at a joint press conference with Costa Rican President Laura Chinchilla. “So everybody from the American press corps, you should thank the people of Costa Rica for celebrating free speech and an independent press as essential pillars of our democracy.”
World Press Freedom Day is an event sponsored by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
“In some cases, it is not just governments threatening the freedom of the press,” the president said in last year’s statement. “It is also criminal gangs, terrorists, or political factions. No matter the cause, when journalists are intimidated, attacked, imprisoned, or disappeared, individuals begin to self-censor, fear replaces truth, and all of our societies suffer. A culture of impunity for such actions must not be allowed to persist in any country.”
Outrage at the DOJ information-trolling is coming from both conservatives and many liberals, including the American Civil Liberties Union.
“The media’s purpose is to keep the public informed and it should be free to do so without the threat of unwarranted surveillance,” said Laura W. Murphy, director of the American Civil Liberties Union Washington Legislative Office. “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.”
White House spokesman Jay Carney on Monday issued a statement saying, “Other than press reports, we have no knowledge of any attempt by the Justice Department to seek phone records of the AP.” He directed further questions to the Justice Department.
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