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Senators to probe FBI snooping on reporters' calls

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  1. Protecting Sources and Materials
Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), the ranking officials on the Senate Judiciary Committee, on Monday promised Congressional…

Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), the ranking officials on the Senate Judiciary Committee, on Monday promised Congressional hearings to seek more information about the FBI’s improper efforts to access reporters’ phone records.

FBI head Robert Mueller called top editors at The New York Times and The Washington Post on Friday to apologize for obtaining four reporters’ toll phone records using “exigent circumstances letters” in 2004. All four were stationed in Indonesia and researching Islamic terrorism at the time.

The records listed all calls made and received from the reporters’ phone lines, but did not offer any insight into the content of the phone conversation.

Using the letters allowed the Bureau to bypass grand jury review in emergency cases. The FBI has since stopping using the letters.

The Bureau has refused to identify the nature or subject of their investigation when the records were requested. Late last week, The Washington Post reported that the letters were accompanied by assurances from FBI agents that they would follow up with subpoenas from a U.S. attorney, but no subpoena was ever issued for the phone records.

Internal Justice Department guidelines demand that requests for news media records involve special rules usually requiring the approval of high-ranking Justice Department officials. Bureau officials said that those procedures were not followed in seeking the reporters’ records.

In a letter to Mueller, the Senators noted that the Free Flow of Information Act of 2008 (S. 2035) includes provisions that would limit the government’s ability to collect the telephone records of reporters. The measure would preclude unilateral use of tactics similar to the “exigent circumstances letters” by requiring judicial review of such requests.