Phillip Klein Explains Problems With DOJ AP Phone Records Grab

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. (Getty Images)

The Associated Press reported Monday that the Department of Justice had secretly seized two months worth of telephone records from reporters and editors working for the global news organization.

Needless to say, news that the DOJ had secretly obtained AP phone records has rocked the media. As it turns out, people really, really don’t like being spied on or having the feds snoop around their personal information.

This is going to take some explaining.

And it looks like it’ll take a lot more than a “low-level employee” to get U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder out of this tight spot.

See, as the Washington Examiner’s Phillip Klein notes, “it will be harder for President Obama to pin the DOJ’s action on lower level bureaucrats … because requests to subpoena news organization records require the approval of Attorney General Eric Holder.”

From the DOJ’s U.S. Attorneys’ Manual:

The Attorney General’s authorization is normally required before the issuance of any subpoena to a member of the news media or for the telephone toll records of a member of the news media. However, in those cases where the media member or his or her representative agrees to provide the material sought and that material has been published or broadcast, the United States Attorney or the responsible Assistant Attorney General may authorize issuance of the subpoena, thereafter submitting a report to the Office of Public Affairs detailing the circumstances surrounding the issuance of the subpoena….

The probe was secret, as Klein notes, therefore the second condition wasn’t met. This means that the DOJ needed Holder’s signature to go forward with obtaining the AP phone records.

The manual continues:

Department attorneys seeking the Attorney General’s authorization to issue a subpoena to a member of the news media, or for telephone toll records of a media member, must submit a written request summarizing the facts of the prosecution or investigation, explaining the essentiality of the information sought to the investigation or prosecution, describing attempts to obtain the voluntary cooperation of the news media through negotiation and explaining how the proposed subpoena will be fashioned as narrowly as possible to obtain the necessary information in a manner as minimally intrusive and burdensome as possible.

Obviously, this puts Holder and the entire DOJ in an interesting position.

“[E]ither attorneys’ ignored procedure in obtaining phone records without proper approval, or Holder directly approved an operation that involved obtaining journalists’ work and personal phone records,” Klein writes.

Perhaps we’ll learn more when Holder testifies before the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday for an oversight hearing.

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Featured image Getty Images.