Justice Department secretly seizes AP phone records

Associated Press

The U.S. Justice Department "has secretly obtained two months of telephone records of journalists," the news cooperative reports.

The records came from AP reporters as well as offices in New York, Washington and Connecticut. They include records from "20 separate telephone lines assigned to AP journalists and offices, including cell and home phone lines," AP reports.

The records cover April and May 2012, and appear to be connected to a story by Adam Goldman and Matt Apuzzo about a foiled al-Qaida plot. Goldman and Apuzzo are among the AP journalists whose records the government sought.

AP President Gary Pruitt protested the seizure in a letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder.

“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,” he wrote. Here's the full letter.

The U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Columbia sent Poynter a statement about the case:

We take seriously our obligations to follow all applicable laws, federal regulations, and Department of Justice policies when issuing subpoenas for phone records of media organizations. Those regulations require us to make every reasonable effort to obtain information through alternative means before even considering a subpoena for the phone records of a member of the media. We must notify the media organization in advance unless doing so would pose a substantial threat to the integrity of the investigation. Because we value the freedom of the press, we are always careful and deliberative in seeking to strike the right balance between the public interest in the free flow of information and the public interest in the fair and effective administration of our criminal laws.

The Obama administration has prosecuted leaks aggressively. A study last year by ProPublica showed it had brought six prosecutions under the World War I-era Espionage Act, twice as many as all previous administrations.

Last February Jake Tapper, then of ABC News, asked Obama press secretary Jay Carney about its praise for journalists unearthing secrets overseas: "You want aggressive journalism abroad; you just don’t want it in the United States," Tapper suggested.

"I think we absolutely honor and praise the bravery of reporters who are placing themselves in extremely dangerous situations in order to bring a story of oppression and brutality to the world," Carney replied.

I — as for other cases, again, without addressing any specific case, I think that there are issues here that involve highly sensitive classified information, and I think that, you know, those are — divulging or to — divulging that kind of information is a serious issue, and it always has been.

Previously: Anger over administration leaks to New York Times spurs investigations

  • Andrew Beaujon

    Andrew Beaujon reported on the media for Poynter from 2012 to 2015. He was previously arts editor at TBD.com and managing editor of Washington City Paper. He's the author of the 2006 book "Body Piercing Saved My Life," about Christian rock and evangelical Christian culture.


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