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The Associated Press news agency says that the Department of Justice secretly obtained two months of telephone records on 20 lines used by its reporters and editors.
The records covered April and May 2012, and according to the AP:
" ... listed outgoing calls for the work and personal 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. It was not clear if the records also included incoming calls or the duration of calls."
AP President Gary Truitt has asked for the records to be returned and for all copies to be destroyed. In a letter of protest to Attorney General Eric Holder on Monday, Pruitt said the government's actions went beyond anything that could be justified by any specific investigation.
"There can be no possible justification for such an overbroad collection of the telephone communications of The Associated Press and its reporters," he said in the letter. "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."
The Justice Department reportedly obtained calls for 20 phone lines, including the House of Representatives press gallery.
NPR's Carrie Johnson reports that it's not clear why Justice wanted the records, but that the U.S. Attorney in the District of Columbia had been conducting a leak investigation about a foiled terrorist plot involving a bomb on an airplane last year.
"The U.S. attorney's office in Washington responded that federal investigators seek phone records from news outlets only after making 'every reasonable effort to obtain information through alternative means.' It did not disclose the subject of the probe.
'We must notify the media organization in advance unless doing so would pose a substantial threat to the integrity of the investigation,' it said. '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.'"
Update at 6:55 a.m. ET, May 14:
NPR's Carrie Johnson has more. She writes that "the scope of the Justice Department subpoenas is what gives David Schultz, a lawyer for AP, pause. 'It was a very large number of records that were obtained including phone records from Hartford, New York, Washington, from the U.S. House of Representatives and elsewhere where AP has bureaus. It included home and cell phone numbers from a number of AP reporters,' Schultz says."
Update at 8:30 p.m. ET:
The Washington Post writes that the "sweeping subpoenas" for the phone records were:
"... part of a year-long investigation into the disclosure of classified information about a failed al-Qaeda plot last year.
The aggressive investigation into the possible disclosure of classified information to the AP is part of a pattern in which the Obama administration has pursued current and former government officials suspected of releasing secret material. Six officials have been prosecuted so far, more than under all previous administrations."
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