Justice Dept. Under Fire for AP Phone Record Grab

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The U.S. Justice Department has come under fire for secretly obtaining phone records for journalists and editors with The Associated Press.

Investigators obtained records for more than 20 separate lines assigned to the AP and its journalists in April and May of 2012.
The records listed outgoing calls for the work and personal numbers of reporters for AP offices in New York, Washington D.C, and Hartford, Conn.
Phone records from the news agency's main number in the House of Representatives press gallery were also subpoenaed. More than 100 journalists routinely use those numbers.

What does this case show about the administration's record on civil liberties? Seton Motley, founder and president of Less Government, tackled that issue and more on Newswatch, May 14.
The subpoenas are thought to be part of a criminal investigation into leaked details about a CIA operation in Yemen.

In a letter of protest sent to Attorney General Eric Holder on Monday, AP President and Chief Executive Officer Gary Pruitt said the government sought and obtained information far beyond anything that could be justified by any specific information.  He demanded the return of the phone records and destruction of all copies.

"They haven't told us what they are looking for and nor have they explained why we got no prior notice, which our lawyers tell us that it's not only customary but required," AP Senior Vice President and Executive Editor Kathleen Carroll said.
Meanwhile, lawmakers from both parties have condemned the Justice Department's actions.

"The First Amendment is first for a reason. If the Obama administration is going after reporters' phone records, they better have a good explanation," Michael Steele, spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said.
"The burden is always on the government when they go after private information -- especially information regarding the press or its confidential sources. I want to know more about this case, but on the face of it, I am concerned that the government may not have met that burden," Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said in a statement.
It is unknown whether a judge or a grand jury signed off on the subpoenas.

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