The Justice Department’s seizing of journalists’ phone records during the administration of President Barack Obama was more extensive than previously reported, recently released documents show.
In 2013, The Associated Press raised the alarm after the Justice Department (DOJ) informed the news service that it had subpoenaed and obtained the records—not including content of the calls—of 21 mobile phones and land lines, including home numbers assigned to AP journalists, and their offices.
But the DOJ had, in fact, issued 30 subpoenas for records of 30 phone lines “it believed to be those of The Associated Press reporters and editors,” according to a 2014 report by the DOJ’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR).
The report, albeit heavily redacted, was obtained through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request by the Knight First Amendment Institute (KFAI) at Columbia University and the Freedom of the Press Foundation (FPF).
The subpoenas covered a period between April 1, 2012, and May 10, 2012, as part of an investigation into who leaked classified documents that the AP used to produce several articles about the CIA foiling a Yemen-based plot to put a bomb on an airliner.
“The White House had said there was no credible threat to the American people in May of 2012. The AP story suggested otherwise, and we felt that was important information and the public deserved to know it,” AP President and Chief Executive Gary Pruitt said in a May 14, 2013, statement.
The OPR report says that then-Deputy Attorney General James Cole only approved the subpoenas on Feb. 6, 2013, after investigators interviewed more than 550 witnesses and reviewed thousands of government documents, but still “failed to produce investigative leads concerning the source of the leak.”
The AP alleged that the DOJ overreached, including by seizing records for general numbers for some of AP’s offices, including those in New York City and Washington.
“These records potentially reveal communications with confidential sources across all of the newsgathering activities undertaken by the AP [during the targeted period],” Pruitt said in a letter to then-Attorney General Eric Holder, also saying that the records could “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.” read more here