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Justice Department subpoenas journalist’s home phone records

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  1. Protecting Sources and Materials

    NMU         WASHINGTON, D.C.         Confidentiality/Privilege         Aug 28, 2001    

Justice Department subpoenas journalist’s home phone records

  • A U.S. Attorney in New York received Justice Department approval of a subpoena for an Associated Press reporter’s home phone records, hoping to discover the identity of an unnamed source.

The Justice Department subpoenaed the home telephone records of an Associated Press reporter to discover his confidential source for information on the investigation of a U.S. senator, the U.S. Attorney’s office in Manhattan disclosed in a letter dated Aug. 20.

Reporter John Solomon on May 4 quoted unidentified law enforcement officials as saying that conversations between New Jersey Sen. Robert Torricelli and relatives of a prominent Chicago crime figure were recorded by a government wiretap. Law enforcement officials can be prosecuted for disclosing the contents of a wiretap.

U.S. Attorney Mary Jo White said in the letter to Solomon that her office had obtained his home telephone records for both incoming and outgoing calls from May 2 to May 7. The AP reported that White disclosed that Attorney General John Ashcroft, whose permission is required before Justice Department officials subpoena a member of the news media, recused himself from consideration of the request, which was then approved by Deputy Attorney General Larry Thompson. According to the AP, Torricelli had campaigned in support of Ashcroft’s opponent in last year’s Senate race in Missouri, which Ashcroft lost.

Neither the Justice Department nor the AP reported whether the source had been uncovered.

AP announced it will challenge the practice of subpoenaing reporter’s records without notifying them first so they can contest the subpoena in court.

“We are outraged by what the Justice Department has done and we will seek any available legal redress,” AP President and CEO Louis D. Boccardi told The Washington Post. “Their actions fly in the face of long-standing policy that recognizes what a serious step it is to go after a reporter’s phone records. We hope that this secret assault on the press is not an indication of the Bush administration’s attitude toward a press free of government interference.”

In a letter to Ashcroft protesting the action, Lucy Dalglish, executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, said, “We are concerned that this action signals an ominous hostility to the First Amendment rights of reporters at worst, and an indifference to these important rights at best.”

“We believe that in a free and democratic society, journalists must be able to protect confidential sources and information. To deny journalists this right threatens the free and independent press guaranteed by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution,” Dalglish said.

GL

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© 2001 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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