The screen on the phone console at the reception desk at The Associated Press Washington bureau.
The Associated Press is protesting what it calls a massive and unprecedented intrusion into its gathering of news. The target of that wrath is the U.S. Justice Department, which secretly collected phone records for several AP reporters last year. The AP says it's caught in the middle of a Justice Department leak investigation.
The scope of the Justice Department subpoenas is what gives David Schultz, a lawyer for AP, pause.
"It was a very large number of records that were obtained, including phone records from Hartford, New York, Washington, from the U.S. House of Representatives and elsewhere where AP has bureaus. It included home and cellphone numbers from a number of AP reporters," Schulz says.
It's not clear what the U.S. Attorney in Washington, D.C., is investigating. But the AP thinks it might be related to its story from May 2012 that described the CIA stopping a terrorist plot to plant a bomb on an airplane with a sophisticated new kind of device.
How that story came to be is the subject of a criminal leak investigation. But the AP says the Justice Department might now be flouting the First Amendment to try to build a case.
"This sort of activity really amounts to massive government monitoring of the actions of the press, and it really puts a dagger at the heart of AP's news-gathering activities," Schulz says.
The phone records don't include the substance of the calls — they're just a written tally of who called whom and how long the calls lasted.
Justice Department officials didn't want to talk on tape. But a spokesman for Ron Machen, the U.S. attorney in D.C., said he follows laws and Justice Department rules.
What are those rules?
For starters, the attorney general himself needs to sign off on a subpoena to a reporter. And prosecutors must demonstrate that they made every effort to get the information in other ways before even turning to the press.
But those rules also say prosecutors need to notify the media organization in advance unless that would pose a substantial threat to the integrity of the investigation.
David Schulz, the lawyer for AP, says the guidelines for the Justice Department's dealings with reporters date back to a dark time.
"They were put into place after Watergate, when everyone was very alarmed by the abuses and excesses of the Nixon Justice Department in subpoenaing reporters and trying to get information about their sources and activities," he says.
Three years ago, the Justice Department's inspector general found evidence that the FBI was getting phone records from The Washington Post and The New York Times in the Bush administration without following those guidelines.
Now lawmakers from both political parties are asking the Obama administration tough questions.
Reince Priebus Calls For Eric Holder's Resignation Over Justice Department AP Scandal
(Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus called for Attorney General Eric Holder's resignation Tuesday, saying Holder had "trampled on the First Amendment."
Holder was caught in controversy Monday when it was revealed the Justice Department had secretly obtained two months of telephone records of reporters and editors for The Associated Press. AP President and Chief Executive Officer Gary Pruitt called the move a "massive and unprecedented intrusion" in a letter of protest sent to Holder.
This isn't the first time Priebus has called for Holder's resignation. In February 2012, Priebus demanded Holder resign over the Operation Fast and Furious scandal.
Below, Priebus' statement calling for Holder's resignation:
Freedom of the press is an essential right in a free society. The First Amendment doesn’t request the federal government to respect it; it demands it. Attorney General Eric Holder, in permitting the Justice Department to issue secret subpoenas to spy on Associated Press reporters, has trampled on the First Amendment and failed in his sworn duty to uphold the Constitution. Because Attorney General Holder has so egregiously violated the public trust, the president should ask for his immediate resignation. If President Obama does not, the message will be unmistakable: The President of the United States believes his administration is above the Constitution and does not respect the role of a free press.
Who says there is no consensus anymore between hyper-partisan Democrats and Republicans? Well, just about everyone these days. But the usual Cassandras, often seen decrying the supposed lack of concord in Washington D.C., are unlikely to point to the developing consensus around the notion that Attorney General Eric Holder should resign as a welcome bit of political comity. Still, and in spite of the silence of the hollow, label-free political commentators who value unity for its own sake, anything that brings together former Current TV host Keith Olbermann and Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus has to be worth noting.
Eric Holder Should Resign, Or Else Congress Should Impeach Him
Eric Holder Should Resign Or Else Congress Should Impeach Him
Attorney General Eric Holder isn't having a good week. On Monday, he was grilled before Congress. The same thing happened on Tuesday in the Senate. Both hearings were the result of a congressional subpoena that was issued back in October of 2011.
Holder ignored the subpoena from the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee for months. Only when political pressure grew significantly did he finally decide to appear in front of Congress.
Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), chairman of the House Oversight Committee, requested all available documentation on Operation Fast and Furious, a botched gunrunning operation that was supposed to track guns on the black market. Holder produced only 7,600 of the 140,000 documents pertaining to that operation.
Despite much of the mainstream media largely ignoring Operation Fast and Furious, it has become a very serious case. Fast and Furious grew out of the Bush administration’s Project Gunrunner. Whereas Project Gunrunner was designed to deny the cartels the tools of the trade, Fast and Furious took things a step further. The operation allowed over 2,000 firearms from the U.S. to be taken by Mexican smugglers across the border in hopes that they could later be traced to the Mexican drug cartels.
During the course of this poorly executed operation, hundreds of these firearms were lost. Many are now suspected in some particularly deadly crimes, the most famous of which was the shooting death of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry, who was killed in December 2010. Other evidence has linked these guns to the deaths of individuals in Mexico.
There’s now a very real possibility that Holder will be charged with contempt for failing to comply fully with a congressional subpoena. Rep. Issa and the rest of the Oversight Committee have the full support of the House leadership, including Speaker John Boehner (R-OH).
Holder is also on the hot seat for allegedly misleading Congress that he was not aware of Operation Fast and Furious, despite the fact that only a few months beforehand he had mentioned it by name. Other documents have also recently come forward that have shown that Holder as well as other high-ranking members of the Justice Department knew more than they led on about the deadly operation.
Some of these documents pertained to six applications for wiretaps. If they had gone through, they would have allowed investigators in Arizona to listen in on phone calls to and from individuals that were working with the cartels. Despite the fact that these documents have since been sealed by a federal judge, they're still incredibly harmful to Holder and the rest of the Justice Department.