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The Associated Press is reporting that the Justice Department – in an unprecedented intrusion – secretly obtained the phone records for lines used by over 100 journalists over a two-month period.

Per the AP:

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.

While the DoJ is refusing to comment, many speculate that this intrusion, deemed "unconstitutional" by the AP's CEO Gary Pruitt, was precipitated by a criminal investigation into finding an AP source who leaked information about a failed terror plot in Yemen.

In his letter to Attorney General Eric Holder, Pruitt has written:  

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.

We regard this action by the Department of Justice as a serious interference with AP’s constitutional rights to gather and report the news.

This is an intensely serious matter, for if the DoJ indeed secretly obtained these phone records, it would be a troubling invasion of the Fourth Estate and a potentially unprecedented breach of power. Such a broad seizure of phone records would need a subpoena signed directly by Holder, and would have to follow the following rule, per Dylan Byers:
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.
Secretly seizing the phone records of a broad swath of journalists, learning how they go about gathering the news and gaining access to all of their anonymous sources, is a serious violation by our government.

The DoJ has gone off the rails. And the AP is right to demand not only an explanation, but the destruction of said records and the making right of what may be a devastating wrong by our government.


Update:

Marcy Wheeler at emptywheel is on the story, and reveals in greater detail just how troubling this story may be. Regarding the two-month time frame in which the DoJ is accused of secretly obtaining phone records during April and May of 2012, Wheeler writes:

If [this time frame is] so, it means the government grabbed phone records for Adam Goldman,  Matt Apuzzo, Kimberly Dozier, Eileen Sullivan, and Alan Fram for three weeks after (and five weeks before) the UndieBomb 2.0 story Goldman and Apuzzo by-lined.

That would mean they’d get the sources for this Kimberly Dozier story published May 21 which starts,

"White House counterterror chief John Brennan has seized the lead in guiding the debate on which terror leaders will be targeted for drone attacks or raids, establishing a new procedure to vet both military and CIA targets.

The move concentrates power over the use of lethal U.S. force outside war zones at the White House.

The process, which is about a month old, means Brennan’s staff consults the Pentagon, the State Department and other agencies as to who should go on the list, making a previous military-run review process in place since 2009 less relevant, according to two current and three former U.S. officials aware of the evolution in how the government targets terrorists."

After this story by Dozier, Brennan began what Wheeler describes as an "enormous propaganda campaign" that tried to cover up for just how illegal and unwieldy the drone program is.

Meaning: the DoJ may have been targeting Dozier's sources. A chilling prospect, indeed.

Author's Note:

Since we are all progressives, I feel compelled to state the following: if this (developing) story had surfaced during George W. Bush's presidency, I would have been justifiably horrified and enraged.

That horror and rage should not be diluted by the fact that the White House is currently occupied by a Democrat.

End Stop.

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