The Department of Justice issued a vague response to an Associated Press report Monday that the DOJ had “secretly obtained” two months worth of phone records of AP reporters and editors.
AP reported that the government would not give an explanation for why it had sought out the phone records, but noted that the DOJ had previously stated that it was looking into who leaked information to the AP for a story in May about a terror plot that was successfully deterred. In the story were details about “a CIA operation in Yemen that stopped an al-Qaida plot in the spring of 2012 to detonate a bomb on an airplane bound for the United States.”
In a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder [pdf], AP President and CEO Gary Pruitt called the seizure of phone records “a serious interference with AP’s constitutional rights to gather and report the news” and demanded that the DOJ sequester the seized records and explain its actions.
“There can be no possible justification for such an overbroad collection of the telephone communications of The Associated Press and its reporters. These records potentially reveal communications with confidential sources across all of the newsgathering activities undertaken by the AP during a two-month period, provide a road map to AP’s newsgathering operations, and disclose information about AP’s activities and operations that the government has no conceivable right to know,” Pruitt wrote.
Pruitt continued that there “can be no possible justification for such an overbroad collection of telephone communications of The Associated Press and its reporters,” adding that the information obtained was something “that the government has no conceivable right to know.”
In a statement provided to Business Insider, the DOJ said that it respected the freedom of the press, but remained vague about the reason for obtaining the phone records.
“We take seriously our obligations to follow all applicable laws, federal regulations, and Department of Justice policies when issuing subpoenas for phone records of media organizations,” said the Justice Department. “Those regulations require us to make every reasonable effort to obtain information through alternative means before even considering a subpoena for the phone records of a member of the media. We must notify the media organization in advance unless doing so would pose a substantial threat to the integrity of the investigation. Because we value the freedom of the press, we are always careful and deliberative in seeking to strike the right balance between the public interest in the free flow of information and the public interest in the fair and effective administration of our criminal laws.”
White House spokesman Jay Carney, when asked about the wiretapping by pool reporters, referred all questions to the Justice Department.