The Associated Press said Monday that the Justice Department accessed two months worth of confidential phone records without reason. Secretly obtained, the information includes lists of outgoing calls for both personal and work numbers of select AP reporters.
Records for over 20 phone lines were seized by the Department of Justice including calling lists for the AP's general office numbers located in New York, Washington and Conn. According to the news company's lawyers, even the call records for the main number for the AP in the House of Representatives press gallery were grabbed.
The government seized call records from April and May of last year for phones assigned to AP and its reporters. AP President and CEO Gary Pruitt protested the Justice Department's actions in a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder. Pruitt called the government's seizure of the call records unwarranted and that it was a "massive and unprecedented intrusion".
"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 White House said Monday that it knew nothing about the Justice Department's decision to seize AP phone records.
"We are not involved in decisions made in connection with criminal investigations, as those matters are handled independently by the Justice Department," White House spokesman Jay Carney said.
The AP said that news organizations are usually notified in advance when the government wants access to phone records so that the entities negotiate over the information requested. The notification letter received by AP Friday from the U.S. attorney in Washington, Ronald Machen, gave no explanation as to why the call records were seized.
As reported by the AP, a criminal investigation is being conducted by the U.S. attorney in Washington to find out who leaked information to AP about a foiled terror plot. AP ran a story on May 7, 2012 that contained details about a CIA operation putting a stop to an al-Qaida terror plan against the United States. The government pulled the phone records of five reporters and an editor who wrote the story. It's presently unknown whether a judge or grand jury approved the subpoenas for the call records.
"We do not comment on ongoing criminal investigations," U.S. attorney spokes said Monday in an email to AP.