The so-called third “scandal” occurred when we learned that the Justice Department had 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.” In a letter of protest to Attorney General Eric Holder, 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 over broad collection of the telephone communications of The Associated Press and its reporters. These records potentially reveal communications with confidential sources across all of the news gathering activities undertaken by the AP during a two-month period, provide a road map to AP’s news gathering operations and disclose information about AP’s activities and operations that the government has no conceivable right to know,” Pruitt said.
Although the Justice Department has not said why it sought the records but officials had previously said in public testimony that the U.S. attorney in Washington was 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 this past February 2013, 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.”
The Obama administration has aggressively investigated disclosures of classified information to the media and has brought six cases against people suspected of providing classified information, more than under all previous presidents combined. The White House said that other than press reports it had no knowledge of Justice Department attempts to seek 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,” spokesman Jay Carney said.
Republican Darrell Issa, Chairman of the investigative House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said on CNN, “They had an obligation to look for every other way to get it before they intruded on the freedom of the press.” Sen. Patrick Leahy, Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said in an emailed statement: “The burden is always on the government when they go after private information, especially information regarding the press or its confidential sources. On the face of it, I am concerned that the government may not have met that burden. I am very troubled by these allegations and want to hear the government’s explanation.”
The American Civil Liberties Union said the use of subpoenas for a broad swath of records has a chilling effect both on journalists and whistleblowers who want to reveal government wrongdoing. “The attorney general must explain the Justice Department’s actions to the public so that we can make sure this kind of press intimidation does not happen again,” said Laura Murphy, the director of ACLU’s Washington legislative office.
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. The letter notifying AP that its phone records had been obtained through subpoenas was sent Friday by Ronald Machen, the U.S. attorney in Washington.
William Miller, a spokesman for Machen, said Monday that in general the U.S. attorney follows “all applicable laws, federal regulations and Department of Justice policies when issuing subpoenas for phone records of media organizations.” But he would not address questions about the specifics of the AP records. “We do not comment on ongoing criminal investigations,” Miller said in an email.
The Justice Department lays out strict rules for efforts to get phone records from news organizations. A subpoena can be considered only after “all reasonable attempts” have been made to get the same information from other sources, the rules say. It was unclear what other steps, in total, the Justice Department might have taken to get information in the case. A subpoena to the media must be “as narrowly drawn as possible” and “should be directed at relevant information regarding a limited subject matter and should cover a reasonably limited time period,” according to the rules.
The reason for these constraints, the department says, is to avoid actions that “might impair the news gathering function” because the government recognizes that “freedom of the press can be no broader than the freedom of reporters to investigate and report the news.”
News organizations normally are notified in advance that the government wants phone records and then they enter into negotiations over the desired information. In this case, however, the government, in its letter to the AP, cited an exemption to those rules that holds that prior notification can be waived if such notice, in the exemption’s wording, might “pose a substantial threat to the integrity of the investigation.” It is unknown whether a judge or a grand jury signed off on the subpoenas.
Republican Senator Rand Paul had to add his assessment of the scandal by saying: “The Fourth Amendment is not just a protection against unreasonable searches and seizures; it is a fundamental protection for the First Amendment and all other Constitutional rights. It sets a high bar — a warrant — for the government to take actions that could chill exercise of any of those rights. We must guard it with all the vigor that we guard other constitutional protections.”
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 both because of its seriousness and also because the White House previously 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 officials said those concerns were allayed, the AP disclosed the plot, though the Obama administration continued to request that the story be held until the administration could make an official announcement.
Conservative news outlets immediately started calling the IRS investigation an unholy crusade waged by the anti-Christ himself, lobbing accusations of “Chicago politics” and the creation of “an enemy’s list” by the White House. The breaking of the DOJ scandal caused right-wing pundits to take to the airwaves and Twitter to spin a story of “wiretapping” and vindictive, personal politics by an Obama administration out to get America’s real patriots.
The Justice Department’s investigation of the Associated Press certainly shocked the world of journalism and it received exhaustive news coverage. The Pew Research Center recently released a poll that shows that the public was following the AP story less than the controversies over the IRS or Benghazi. While 26 percent said they were tracking the IRS closely, and 25 percent said the same for Benghazi, just 16 percent said the same of the AP. Basically, Pew said, “public interest in a trio of controversies connected to the Obama administration has been limited.”
In my view, most Americans are not interested in any “made up” scandal initiated by conservative Republicans but are more interested in jobs, the economy and a safe homeland. While there should be a debate as to balancing first amendment rights with protecting the National security, it shouldn’t be initiated as a partisan effort to assess blame. Remember, this whole process was originally initiated by the Bush Administration. Unfortunately, since the economy is making a recovery and more than 6.8 million jobs have been created under the Obama administration with no help from Republicans, the only recourse they have to gain some leverage in preparation for the 2014 and 2016 elections is by making up a scandal.
Speaker Boehner continues to claim that jobs are the number one House priority, but since he has been Speaker, the House has voted a total of 213 times and only one vote related to jobs. Yet, the Boehner House voted 39 times to repeal Obamacare even though the Supreme Court declared that Obamacare is constitutional. Primarily because of Tea Party influence, the Republican congress has recorded the lowest approval in recent history-only 10%. House Republicans continue to demonstrate that their real priority is to limit economic growth during the Obama presidency. The numbers confirm that Boehner’s tough talk on jobs is nothing more than empty rhetoric that Republicans expect the American people to believe. However, there is a solution.
To eliminate any future made-up scandal, bring sanity and work ethics back to the House, the Democratic Party will make a all-out effort to recapture the House in 2014. Will it be tough? Yes, because of the rigged legislative districts in Republican legislative controlled states. But I believe that a majority of the American people are so fed-up with Republican obstructionism and will return House leadership to Nancy Pelosi in 2014 and legislation and governing will commence again, but that’s just my take.
CLICK HERE TO ENTER OUR JEWELRY AND PRODUCT SHOWCASE