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Reporters Committee protests subpoena of journalist’s phone records

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  1. Protecting Sources and Materials
(Attached is a letter from Reporters Committee executive director Lucy Dalglish to the Attorney General. A news story on this…

(Attached is a letter from Reporters Committee executive director Lucy Dalglish to the Attorney General. A news story on this subpoena can be found at

August 28, 2001

VIA U.S. Mail and E-Mail Attorney General John Ashcroft Deputy Attorney General Larry Thompson U.S. Department of Justice 950 Pennsylvania Avenue NW Washington, D.C. 20530-0001

Dear Mr. Ashcroft and Mr. Thompson:

We are writing you to protest the subpoena of Associated Press reporter John Solomon’s telephone records. 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.

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press is a voluntary, unincorporated association of reporters and editors that works to defend the First Amendment rights and freedom of information interests of the news media. The Reporters Committee provides representation, guidance and research in First Amendment and Freedom of Information Act litigation. In fact, the Reporters Committee was founded in 1970 on the issue of whether the Nixon Justice Department could subpoena notes and testimony from journalists.

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.

For almost 30 years, the Justice Department has recognized that it is a serious step to go after a journalist’s notes, records or testimony. Particularly in the case of telephone records, the Department has an obligation under the First Amendment and under its own guidelines to give reporters a chance to contest such an action unless advance notice would jeopardize an investigation. In this case, Mr. Solomon was researching a story about information already in the hands of the government, so it is difficult to understand how any such jeopardy existed.

We understand that Mr. Ashcroft has recused himself from the AP subpoena. However, we believe this incident may be an indication of a dangerous trend and, perhaps, an indication that the Justice Department intends to change long-standing policies against subpoenas of the news media without exhausting all alternative means of acquiring the sought-after information. We ask that the Justice Department give the greatest deference and consideration of the First Amendment and the qualified reporter’s privilege when considering these matters.


Lucy A. Dalglish Executive Director