Swift reaction to what AP calls government 'intrusion' into its records
The Justice Department secretly seized two months of phone records from the Associated Press. Typically, news organizations are given advance notice, but this case was deemed an exception.
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The Justice Department has strict regulations for acquiring phone records from news organizations. A subpoena can be used only after “all reasonable attempts” have been made to gather the same information from different sources, and the US attorney general must sign off on the subpoena. Typically, news organizations are given advance notice that the government wants its records, and they can challenge the subpoena in court. But the Justice Department said this case is an exception to the rule.Skip to next paragraph
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“We must notify the media organization in advance unless doing so would pose a substantial threat to the integrity of the investigation,” said William Miller, a spokesman for Mr. Machen.
“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,” Mr. Miller added.
But critics of the case say they are troubled by the broader implications of the government’s actions – that it could intimidate journalists into not reporting accounts of government misconduct.
“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, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Washington legislative office.
“This very chilling, this is very chilling,” CNN’s John King said Monday, Politico reported. “The government gets angry about leaks of classified information. I understand that, and they have ways to investigate them. But did they cross a line here?... When this happens, however it happens, it sends a chilling message from the government to people in our business, and the AP, I think, is justifiably outraged.”
Gary Pruitt, AP president and chief executive officer, said that the government overstepped its limits, demanding the phone records be returned and all copies be destroyed.
“There can be no possible justification for such an overbroad collection of the telephone communications of The Associated Press and its reporters,” Mr. Pruitt said in a letter to 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.”
• Material from the Associated Press contributed to this report.