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Senator demands answers regarding subpoena of reporter's phone records

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  1. Protecting Sources and Materials

    NMU         WASHINGTON, D.C.         Confidentiality/Privilege         Sep 6, 2001    

Senator demands answers regarding subpoena of reporter’s phone records

  • Sen. Charles Grassley wants Attorney General John Ashcroft to provide information explaining the subpoena and the process used to obtain it.

Calling the Justice Department’s secret subpoena of a journalist’s home phone records “a matter of great concern,” Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) is demanding an explanation from Attorney General John Ashcroft.

In a Sept. 4 letter to Ashcroft, Grassley sought all documents that led to the Justice Department’s decision to subpoena Associated Press reporter John Solomon’s home phone records. Grassley requested a response from Ashcroft by Sept. 24.

“I know you share with me the belief that the protection of the freedom of the press is a central pillar of our democracy,” Grassley wrote. “There is no question that efforts by the Justice Department to subpoena the records of a reporter should be done with caution and only when the needs of justice are great.”

Grassley, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, requested a timeline of all events regarding the subpoena, all related documents and the names of everyone involved with the decision to issue the subpoena.

The letter, which contained 19 questions for Ashcroft, noted that Justice Department regulations require the agency to balance the public’s interest in free speech with the public’s interest in effective law enforcement.

“What was the crime that Justice believes was committed in this instance?” Grassley asked in his letter.

The Justice Department is reviewing the letter and will have a response “sooner rather than later,” Susan Dryden, a Justice Department spokeswoman, said today.

The Justice Department subpoenaed Solomon’s telephone records to discover his confidential source for information on an investigation of Sen. Robert Torricelli (D-N.J.).

Solomon on May 4 had quoted unidentified law enforcement officials as saying that conversations between 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.

Solomon was notified in August that the U.S. Attorney’s office in Manhattan had obtained his phone records for incoming and outgoing calls from May 2 to 7. Grassley’s letter asked why Solomon wasn’t contacted before the records were obtained.

The Reporters Committee protested the subpoena in a letter to Ashcroft and Deputy Attorney General Larry Thompson on Aug. 28.

“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,” Reporters Committee Executive Director Lucy A. Dalglish wrote.


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© 2001 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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