GOP demands Justice explain subpoenaing of AP phone records

Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee are pressing the Justice Department for proof it exhausted all other means before secretly subpoenaing the records of at least 20 Associated Press phone lines.

Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) posed nearly a dozen questions to Deputy Attorney General James Cole in a letter shared with The Hill on Thursday.

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Some of the questions focused on Attorney General Eric Holder’s decision to recuse himself from the investigation of the AP phone records, as well as whether Cole was the one to personally sign off on the subpoenas to the AP.

Justice seized the records as part of an investigation into national security leaks. Holder testified last week that he was questioned as part of the probe, which is why he recused himself. Cole has taken the DOJ lead on the case in Holder’s absence.

Goodlatte pressed Cole on why Justice didn’t attempt to negotiate with the AP for access to the phone records after the news agency had agreed to hold off on publishing a story because of the government’s national security concerns.

“This indicates a willingness on the part of the AP to work with the Justice Department on issues affecting national security,” wrote Goodlatte. “Given this, why did the department not seek the AP’s assistance with its request or provide notice to the AP prior to issuing the subpoena?”

Under the government’s internal Code of Federal Regulations, the DOJ is required to negotiate with members of the news organizations it seeks phone records from only if “the responsible Assistant Attorney General determines that such negotiations would not pose a substantial threat to the integrity of the investigation in connection with which the records are sought."

Goodlatte asked Cole if the DOJ believes that “a substantial threat to the integrity of the investigation existed in this instance?”

He has asked for a “detailed explanation of the facts and circumstances in this case that justified foregoing prior notice to the AP under the ‘substantial threat’ exception.”

Republican Reps. James Sensenbrenner Jr. (Wis.), Lamar Smith (Texas), Darrell Issa (Calif.), Spencer Bachus (Ala.), Randy Forbes (Va.), Louie Gohmert (Texas), Ted Poe (Texas), Jason Chaffetz (Utah), Mark Amodei (Nev.), Raúl Labrador (Idaho), George Holding (N.C.), Doug Collins (Ga.) and Ron DeSantis (Fla.) also signed the letter, which was sent Wednesday.

Goodlatte, who is investigating the matter, has given Cole until the end of the month to reply.

On Wednesday, Poe joined the committee’s ranking Democrat John Conyers Jr. (Mich.) in unveiling a bill that would require the DOJ to make its case before a federal judge anytime it wanted to secretly examine the records of journalists or news organizations.

Criticism of the DOJ’s investigatory tactics increased this week when it was revealed the DOJ tracked the movement of a Fox News reporter in and out of the State Department building, in addition to examining his private email and phone records in an attempt to get more information into a State Department leak.