In a move which appears conveniently timed to coincide with a wave of other arguably more damaging bad news for the administration, the Associated Press has reported that the Department of Justice informed the wire service on Friday that it had secretly obtained two months of reporters' and editors' telephone records.
In the words of AP's Mark Sherman, in coverage late this afternoon, "the government seized the records for more than 20 separate telephone lines assigned to AP and its journalists in April and May of 2012." Sherman also notes that "more than 100 journalists work in the offices where phone records were targeted, on a wide array of stories about government and other matters," and that those records "were presumably obtained from phone companies earlier this year" (i.e., after Obama was safely re-elected). More from Sherman's report, a comment from yours truly, and several comments by others who have read AP's coverage follow the jump (bolds are mine):
GOV'T OBTAINS WIDE AP PHONE RECORDS IN PROBE
The Justice Department secretly obtained two months of telephone records of reporters and editors for The Associated Press in what the news cooperative's top executive called a "massive and unprecedented intrusion" into how news organizations gather the news.
The records obtained by the Justice Department listed outgoing calls for the work and personal phone numbers of individual reporters, for general AP office numbers in New York, Washington and Hartford, Conn., and for the main number for the AP in the House of Representatives press gallery, according to attorneys for the AP. It was not clear if the records also included incoming calls or the duration of the calls.
... 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 investigation. He demanded the return of the phone records and destruction of all copies.
"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 said.
The government would not say why it sought the records. Officials have previously said in public testimony that the U.S. attorney in Washington is conducting a criminal investigation into who may have provided information contained in a May 7, 2012, AP story about a foiled terror plot. The story disclosed details of 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 testimony in February, CIA Director John Brennan noted that the FBI had questioned him about whether he was AP's source, which he denied. He called the release of the information to the media about the terror plot an "unauthorized and dangerous disclosure of classified information."
... Rules published by the Justice Department require that subpoenas of records of news organizations must be personally approved by the attorney general, but it was not known if that happened in this case.
... It is unknown whether a judge or a grand jury signed off on the subpoenas.
The May 7, 2012, AP story that disclosed details of the CIA operation in Yemen to stop an airliner bomb plot occurred around the one-year anniversary of the May 2, 2011, killing of Osama bin Laden.
That May 7 story, according to AP, involved "Matt Apuzzo and Adam Goldman with contributions from reporters Kimberly Dozier, Eileen Sullivan and Alan Fram." The AP named Ted Bridis as the story's editor, and asserts that the phone records of all six were among those whose records were seized.
My comment is really a question: I wonder what outgoing AP Chairman Dean Singleton is thinking right now? Singleton's praise of Obama at an April 2012 luncheon was so over the top that Charles Hurt at the Washington Times described it thusly:
Dean Singleton, chairman of the AP board, introduced Mr. Obama. No, actually, it was more like he proposed to him. Sang him an icky love song in which he reminisced about all their hot dates and then pledged his undying love forever.
He began by sweetly recalling their first encounter, when Mr. Obama was just a junior senator and invited to the august luncheon to share “his vision for America.” Mr. Singleton recalled their first lover’s quarrel over mispronouncing Mr. Obama’s name and “his genteel way” of correcting him.
... Then, apparently reading directly from one of the Obama campaign’s teleprompters, Mr. Singleton proceeded to absolve him of any blame for the current financial crisis.
“As president, he inherited the headwinds of the worst economic recession since the Great Depression. He pushed through Congress the biggest economic recovery plan in history and led a government reorganization of two of the Big Three American auto manufacturers to save them from oblivion.”
Seriously? This from the leader of what is supposed to be the most basic, unbiased, straightforward news reporting organization in the country?
That's right, Charles. That's why the AP has been nicknamed the Administration's Press.`
Here are a few comments at the URL containing the "Big Story" version of Sherman's work excerpted above:
"Well, anyone going to start squawking about the First Amendment? I don't want to hear it from the lamestream media that has been working to destroy the Second Amendment! Reap what you sow!"
"The AP has been on the wrong side of history, sucking up to, and carrying water for, the communist oppressors in the White House. See how they repaid you? Lie down with dogs and wake up with fleas."
"Glad to see that finally some people are going to realize what I've known since the moment that Joe the Plumber was taken through the ringer and tax info released, that this Administration is nothing more than a bunch of Chicago political thugs."
"It will be interesting to see how this affects AP stories. If this doesn't wake them up, nothing will."
As they say, "developing ..."
Cross-posted at BizzyBlog.com.