Department of Justice

DOJ Secretly Snagged AP Journalists' Telephone Records

Is there a rule of threes for scandals?


New acronym: Always Peeking
AP Logo

Well, we're not done with the Benghazi and IRS scandals, but here, have another one. The Department of Justice secretly collected months of phone data from top newswire service, the Associated Press, and then informed them after the fact.

Via the … um … Associated Press:

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 incoming and outgoing calls, and the duration of each call, for the work and personal phone numbers of individual reporters, general AP office numbers in New York, Washington and Hartford, Conn., and the main number for AP reporters in the House of Representatives press gallery, according to attorneys for the AP.

In all, the government seized those records for more than 20 separate telephone lines assigned to AP and its journalists in April and May of 2012. The exact number of journalists who used the phone lines during that period is unknown but more than 100 journalists work in the offices whose phone records were targeted on a wide array of stories about government and other matters.

Imagine being a whistleblower who had been granted anonymity by an Associated Press reporter or editor in exchange for providing information that might prove damaging to the administration.

Although the DOJ wouldn't tell the AP why it sought the records, the AP points to a story they published during those months:

The government would not say why it sought the records. U.S. officials have previously said in public testimony that the U.S. attorney in Washington is conducting a criminal investigation into who may have leaked 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."

Prosecutors have sought phone records from reporters before, but the seizure of records from such a wide array of AP offices, including general AP switchboards numbers and an office-wide shared fax line, is unusual and largely unprecedented.

The Justice Department did have a subpoena, which was apparently sent to the Associated Press on Friday, long after the DOJ collected the information. The DOJ invoked an exception to the rule that news outlets be informed in advance of collecting phone records, claiming it would threaten the investigation if the AP knew.

Could this effort to avoid or punish the release of classified information also have a political component?  Perhaps:

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.

The plot was significant because the White House had told the public it had "no credible information that terrorist organizations, including al-Qaida, are plotting attacks in the U.S. to coincide with the (May 2) anniversary of bin Laden's death."

The AP delayed reporting the story at the request of government officials who said it would jeopardize national security. Once government officials said those concerns were allayed, the AP disclosed the plot because officials said it no longer endangered national security. The Obama administration, however, continued to request that the story be held until the administration could make an official announcement.

Well, let's just toss in the mix and see what happens.

(Hat tip to Reason commenter hamilton, whose link I saw just moments before it blew up all over Twitter)

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  1. Maybe the press will begin to provide ‘traction’ to these stories when the press suffers.

    1. No shit, we may have stumbled upon the one thing they value more than partisanship. Maybe.

      1. Does your mental model imply that journalists are “professionals” with”integrity”?

        Because…no. Just no. Fluffers, every last one of them.

        1. “Does your mental model imply that journalists are “professionals” with”integrity”?”

          Condition not required. The problem here is that the info-grab affects the *appearance* of an independent and critical press.
          Can’t have the curtain open, can we?

        2. Fluffers, every last one of them.

          Ding, ding ding…….!

    2. before I saw the paycheck for $7727, I did not believe that…my… brothers friend woz like they say truley bringing in money in there spare time on their apple labtop.. there friends cousin started doing this less than 19 months and by now cleared the debts on their appartment and bourt Citro?n DS. go to…

  2. Even with it being Obama that smacked them around, I give it 50/50 odds that the press actually report on this rather than tell everyone they just walked into a door. Hell hath no fury like a journalist bugged.

    1. Rhianna got back together with Chris Brown. I’m sure Obama will say he’s sorry baby, he doesn’t want to hurt the press like this but sometimes they make him so mad.

      1. “If I hadn’t been abandoned by my parents I wouldn’t have these problems!”

      2. It’s just those damn republicans!

        1. VG Zaytsev| 5.13.13 @ 5:50PM |#
          “It’s just those damn republicans!”

          Check over at 24/7; Pelosi is blaming the IRS corruption on Citizens United!

      3. According to one commenter on the Chris Brown thread, he was justified cause she tried to crash his car. So like, after the car was out, it totally made sense that he beat the shit out of her cause she started it.

  3. It was all worth it to punish those Republicans

  4. Nothing to see here. Old news. What difference does it make now?

    Power-worshipping lewinsky press is going to swallow this, of course.

    Invest in kneepads.

    1. And bibs!


  5. And liberals wonder why people believe in conspiracies and want to own guns.

    1. Well, this was only a reasonable regulation of the First Amendment, I’m sure they’ll agree.

    2. Cuz we’re all Bitter Clingers.

      Of course, it makes sense Clinger was Bitter, because he spent 11 years trying to get out of a 3-year war.

  6. We can’t have whistleblowers compromising an ongoing DOJ investigation into whistleblowers! The result could be really confusing!

  7. So the press didn’t turn on Obama over dronemurder, but they’re now turning on him over him investigating them for investigating dronemurder? Do I have this correct?

    1. It’s metadronemurder.

    2. …”they’re now turning on him over him investigating them for investigating dronemurder?”

      I don’t think so. The problem here is (as always) the narrative.
      The press, you see, is independent and ‘investigates’ what the government is up to. That’s the story and they’re going to stick to it.
      This kerfuffle, if it isn’t protested loudly and longly, serves to show that story is (properly) so much bullshit; that the press *is* the government’s lap dog who’ll wear really funny hats without embarrassment.

  8. Oh man, I can only hope we have more of these coming down the pike. Combining massive arrogance with massive incompetence tends to lead to massive lulz.

    1. How many scandals does the administration have to have in a two week period for the press to actually turn on The Golden Child?

      1. I think we might get to find out.

        1. Mr. Owl, how many licks does it take to get to the Tootsie Roll center of a Tootsie Pop?
          Mr. Owl: Let’s find out. A One… A.two-HOO…A three..
          (crunch sound effect)
          Mr. Owl: A Three!

          1. Bastard owl.

      2. Irish| 5.13.13 @ 5:31PM |#
        “How many scandals does the administration have to have in a two week period for the press to actually turn on The Golden Child?”

        I’m going to guess ‘way more than we have now.
        Yes, AP will be pissed about the data-grab, and will make loud noises until Obozo says ‘well, we fixed that’. In which case, the press will revert to parroting Pelosi’s ‘Citizens United Made Them Do It!’

    2. I prefer my massive lulz to not cost billions of dollars however.

      1. Pretty sure that train has already left the station. Might as well enjoy what you can of it.

      2. Billions? It’s trillions now.

  9. You know its gotten to a point where I think that even Barack Obama himself must have nothing but contempt for the shitheads in the media that shill for him. If they let this go by, I don’t know what to say.

    1. He’s been contemptuous of them since at least 2008.

    2. You know its gotten to a point where I think that even Barack Obama himself must have nothing but contempt for the shitheads in the media that shill for him

      How could he not? They’ve been his enablers ever since the 2004 convention. If they ever actually realize they can unmake him as easily as they made him, the party’s over.

      I wouldn’t count on it, though–like I’ve said before, the media and the entertainment complex tend to run in the all same social circles, and cultivate an ideological feedback loop–look at all the bloobloo slobbering by media pundits when Nora Ephron, a thoroughly mediocre purveyor of upper-middle class feminist fluff, passed away. Hollywood won’t let news organizations destroy their chosen one unless Obama becomes a total and complete embarrassment to them, and there’s not much he could do that would make that happen.

      1. I think they should destroy him now, just to show that they can. Unless they can’t really do that. Maybe they’re not that big of a deal.

        I triple-dog dare them.

        1. Unless they can’t really do that. Maybe they’re not that big of a deal.

          The media is normally a big deal.

          But I fear that Obama has reached a status that may be above the power of the press. He’s reached a cult status.

          Over the weekend I was in CA visiting a friend. His roommate donned a t-shirt with the likeness of Obama 9 separate times. It’s demented how a scumbag politician has turned in to a cultural icon amongst those on the partisan left. He can do no wrong, and anything that might not go “as planned” is clearly the fault of the republicans.

      2. I think a more apt comparison was the ga ga over Ebert. He had not a lick of talent nor note worthy intelligence. Ephron, though not exactly satisfying my taste ,did. Her dialog could make Meg Ryan come across as witty, and that is saying something.

  10. Fast and Furious, Benghazi, IRS audits, and DOJ snooping. What’s that old saying about it’s not everyone else?

    1. Continued extraordinary rendition, amped up illegal drone wars, fewest pardons of any president in modern history. I used to think Obama was just someone I disagreed with, but who wasn’t necessarily a bad person.

      I’m beginning to think he might legitimately be evil.

      1. At what point is too much too much? I mean, the Nixon administration seems possibly better in comparison.

        1. I don’t think the Nixon Admin would’ve even imagined getting away with this shit.

      2. Beginning? He basically screams psychopath, and has done so for a while. I mean, it’s the type of thing that should be common for politicians, but this is unusually obvious.

      3. You’re only now BEGINNING to think that? I figured that out months ago with the drone strikes.

        1. I was on the fence for awhile. I disagree with him politically on virtually everything, so when I initially started getting the inkling that he might actually be evil, I couldn’t bring myself to say he was for certain since it might just be my political bias. It’s also always possible that someone is just incompetent.

          1. It’s also always possible that someone is just incompetent.

            I’m still going to go with incompetence.

      4. “Continued extraordinary rendition, amped up illegal drone wars, fewest pardons of any president in modern history.”

        You left out (redacted) transparency.

        1. The Obama DOJ has also brought the fewest corporate fraud cases of any modern administration. This is despite the fact that there had to have been some fraud occurring during the bailout and despite the fact that Obama came to office during a period of pretty extreme corporate malfeasance.

          Remember though, it’s the Republicans who are the party of Wall Street.

          1. It’s one of the biggest lies that many on the left still believe, that the Democratic Party is one ounce less in bed with business than the GOP.

      5. I’m beginning to think he might legitimately be evil.

        Me too. Started around March of ’09.

  11. Is this another side show or the main event?

    1. General Allenby: “Its a sideshow OF a sideshow!”

  12. What difference, at this point, does it make?

    1. We should turn this into a song, I suggest:

      Difference, huh, yeah
      At this point
      does it make
      Absolutely nothing

      Difference, huh, yeah
      At this point
      does it make
      Absolutely nothing
      Say it again, y’all

  13. …Sources tell us that most of the DC press corps is too busy tongue polishing the Presidential staff to comment.

  14. Imagine being a whistleblower who had been granted anonymity by an Associated Press reporter or editor in exchange for providing information that might prove damaging to the administration.

    That is unpossible, since this is the most-transparent Administration in teh history. Therefore, there’s nothing to blow a whistle ABOUT – therefore, no whistle blowers who would be talking to the AP.

    Therefore, whatever was [redacted redacted redacted redacted redacted redacted redacted].

    So – no issue.

  15. This looks like its gonna be good.

    1. Damn right anonbot!

  16. DOJ Secretly Snagged AP Journalists’ Deadly Telephone Records

  17. What I wrote at RCP:
    Poetic justice indeed. This administration flagrantly violates the constitution in a thousand ways, large and small, while our “watchdog media” role over and play “lapdog”. Now they are the ones whose civil rights are being violated, and they scream bloody murder.
    How does that poem by Martin Niem?ller end? “Then they came for me ?
    and there was no one left to speak out for me.”
    Maybe now these sycophants will start doing their real job, and stop being the propaganda arm for the Obama administration.

  18. Well, better Obama doing this than the heartless capitalist Mitt Romney!

  19. About half of the Fark comentariat is blaming Bush.

    This shit is beyond parody.

    2013-05-13 08:48:18 PM
    Nabb1: Look, if you want to defend Obama at all costs, go ahead, but what you are talking about has f*ck all to do with the AP. Seriously. It has nothing to do with whether or not the subpoena was over broad or specifically tailored for the investigation.

    Over broad? I thought We The People gave our security services the right to just do whatever they wanted to us? It was OK when Bush did it, right?

    2013-05-13 09:23:38 PM
    It was totally okay when Bush did it though

    There are a few voices of sanity, however:

    2013-05-13 09:47:15 PM
    It’s cool everybody. I was just told by some very smart people that this whole thing is OK because of Bush and some other Republicans and stuff, and that one dude at a Tea Party rally that had that screwed up misspelled sign.

    Quite frankly, I feel pretty comfortable with that explanation. We can all stop posting now and go give some money to because they’re gearing up with a biatch’in new campaign to ban some shiat. Maybe it was raise taxes or someth’in… Whatever it was, it sounded pretty rad.

  20. I’ve been reading and commenting at for years, and imo Orin Kerr’s credibiliy and intellectual honesty are beyond reproach.

    He writes a very insightful article claiming that there does not appear to be any justice dept. shenanigans in this incident and also participates in the comment thread.

    Imo, a “must read” to get some perspective on this case, in addition to Mr. Shackford’s article.…..qus_thread

    1. This exchange sums it up.

      Orin Kerr Conspirator Matthew Slyfield ? 4 hours ago ?
      Matthew, assume that the people who knew about the operation included: (a) The President, (b) the President’s national security staff staff, (c) a few hundred people in the CIA, and (d) the Senators, Representatives, and staffers on committees in charge of CIA oversight. Assume also that the CIA feels extremely strongly that the list of people who the CIA told about the operation should not be disclosed. If I understand you correctly, your view is that entire list should be disclosed to the investigators, and that the investigators should subpoena all the personal and work telephone numbers of all of these people — including the personal call records of President Obama — all to avoid obtaining the records of the five reporters. Or do I misunderstand you?
      7 1 ?Reply?Share ?

      1. Matthew Slyfield Orin Kerr ? 3 hours ago
        No, not particularly.

        However, I would presume the following.

        1. The investigators themselves have high level clearances.
        2. You can leave the President off the list. He has the authority to declassify and publicly release anything, so why would he do it through the back door.
        3. There would be some way to narrow the list of suspects based on who knew what and what details were and were not leaked. Edited to add: They should additionally be able to narrow the list by investigating to see if any of the suspects had a potential motive to leak the information or other factors that might narrow the list. long before requesting anyone’s phone records.

        In my opinion, seizing phone records of non-suspects in what amounts to a criminal case should per say be targeted far more narrowly than doing the same for potential suspects. So the standard for what constitutes overly broad against the AP SHOULD be far lower than it would for a suspect.
        2 1 ?Reply?Share ?

        Are we just conveniently forgetting that the Gov has been jailing whistleblowers contrary to the law, and that you’d be an idiot if you think that anything gleaned from this wouldn’t be used the same way?

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