It’s hard to say which is the worst — the secret seizure of numerous Associated Press telephone records under a sweeping subpoena purportedly aimed at finding the source of a leak of classified information, the devious targeting of tea party and other conservative groups by the Internal Revenue Service, or the Benghazi cover-up.
Under a subpoena issued without the knowledge of the AP, the Justice Department obtained a stunning two months of records in April and May 2012 from more than 20 telephone lines of the AP and its journalists — an action the AP rightly labeled a “massive and unprecedented intrusion” into how the news media gathers information.
The invasive scope of the records seized is mind-boggling and outrageous: outgoing calls for both the work and the personal telephone numbers of reporters, for the AP general office numbers in New York, Washington and Hartford, Conn., and for the main AP number in the U.S. House press gallery, AP attorneys said. No doubt, thousands of calls were made by more than 100 journalists in those offices.
AP President and CEO Gary Pruitt got it right in his letter of protest to Attorney General Eric Holder.
Pruitt said: “There can be no possible justification for such an overbroad collection of the telephone communications of The Associated Press and its reporters.”
The raid placed in the hands of a federal agency records that could, as Pruitt said, “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 the AP’s activities and operations that the government has no conceivable right to know.”
As for the AP being blindsided with the subpoena, the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia put out a statement saying the agency doesn’t have to notify a media organization before obtaining a subpoena if the notification “would pose a substantial threat to the integrity of the investigation.”
The biggest threat to the integrity of this investigation is the refusal to notify the AP in advance and the excessive scope of the subpoena — apparently aimed at finding the source or sources for an AP story on May 7, 2012.
The story told of a CIA operation in Yemen to stop an airliner bomb plot near the anniversary of the May 2, 2011 killing of Osama bin Laden. Significantly, the White House had said previously it had “no credible information that terrorist organizations, including al-Qaida,” were planning attacks to coincide with the anniversary of bin Laden’s death.
At the request of government officials, the AP initially held the story, but then broke it despite the Obama administration’s request to hold off until an official announcement could be made by the administration.
Now the AP is being punished by an assault on the First Amendment.