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Justice chastised for failing to explain subpoena of reporter

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  1. Protecting Sources and Materials

    NMU         WASHINGTON, D.C.         Confidentiality/Privilege         Feb 7, 2002    

Justice chastised for failing to explain subpoena of reporter

  • Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) has been trying to determine since September whether the department followed its own guidelines when it subpoenaed the home phone records of an Associated Press reporter.

Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) criticized the Justice Department on Feb. 6 for failing to explain whether the agency violated its own procedures when it subpoenaed the telephone records of an Associated Press reporter last year.

Grassley has written to the Justice Department three times since early September asking the agency to explain its subpoena of AP reporter John Solomon’s home phone records.

“The department has responded with a shell game for why they won’t answer,” Grassley told the House Committee on Government Reform during a hearing on access to Justice Department documents.

The department has cited grand jury secrecy and privacy laws for its failure to provide specific information about the Solomon subpoena, Grassley told the committee.

“It is inconceivable to me that the law is such that Congress cannot look at the record to determine whether the Justice Department did or did not follow its own guidelines regarding the subpoena of a reporter’s phone records,” Grassley said.

Grassley’s staff members were supposed to meet with Justice officials today to discuss the Solomon subpoena. But after Grassley’s testimony, the Justice Department canceled the meeting without explanation, Grassley’s aides said.

Justice Department spokeswoman Barbara Comstock could not be reached for comment.

Solomon did not learn until late August 2001 that the Justice Department had subpoenaed his phone records from May 2 to 7. The agency was trying to discover the reporter’s confidential source for information about a now-closed investigation of Sen. Robert Torricelli (D-N.J.).

Justice Department guidelines require federal prosecutors to first try to obtain information from another source before subpoenaing a reporter’s phone records. The guidelines also allow no more than a 90-day delay in notifying the reporter about the subpoena.

In a Nov. 28 letter to Grassley, the Justice Department said it has authorized 88 subpoenas of the news media from 1991 through Sept. 6, 2001, including 17 subpoenas that sought information that could identify a reporter’s source or source material.

Grassley found the response inadequate and requested more detailed information by Jan. 8. The Justice Department missed that deadline.


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