Justice Department Defends Actions In Seizure Of A.P. Phone Records

The Deputy Attorney General in charge of the investigation that included the seizure of Associated Press phone records is defending the DOJ’s actions:

James Cole, the deputy attorney general who the Justice Department said oversaw the secret collection of AP reporters’ phone records in 2012, says in a letter to the news organization that Justice acted properly in doing so.

“We strive in every case to strike the proper balance between the public’s interest in the free flow of information and the public’s interest in the protection of national security and effective enforcement of our criminal laws,” Cole wrote. “We believe we have done so in this matter.”

The Justice Department is allowed to obtain phone records without notifying someone if doing so would threaten the integrity of the investigation. Cole said the Justice Department sought the records only after exhausting other methods of information-gathering.

“Please understand that I appreciate your concerns and that we do not take lightly the decision to issue subpoenas for toll records associated with members of the news media,” Cole wrote.

Here’s the letter itself:

Letter from Deputy Attorney General James Cole to Associated Press by dmataconis

Where we go from here is unclear.

FILED UNDER: Law and the Courts, US Politics, ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Dave Schuler says:

    Never pick an argument with anybody who buys ink by the barrel.

  2. Ben Wolf says:

    In response to Deputy Fife I would post this:

    The widespread collection of information, as well as the apparent delay in notifying AP, both appear to be yet another violation the government’s own regulations, 28 C.F.R. sec. 50.10. In 2010, the DOJ Inspector General reported on three other violation, involving the Washington Post and New York Times. The regulations require that, “wherever possible” subpoenas of records of the news media should be “directed at material information regarding a limited subject matter, should cover a reasonably limited period of time and should avoid requiring production of a large volume of unpublished material.” 

    None of those limits appear to have been observed here. It seems impossible to imagine how a subpoena for all the records of call to and from AP’s main switchboard, for example, is as narrowly tailored as the law required. Importantly, the regulations anticipate negotiation with the news media prior to subpoena, which also didn’t occur. And in any event the regulations require notification to the news media within 45 days of any receipt of any information, with another 45 days possible with additional authorization. Since the timeframe of the records is a year ago, it seems likely that the government did not abide by this regulation either. While the regulations do not allow a lawsuit, violations of them can be grounds for discipline for governmental officials. 


  3. fred says:

    Good on you AG Holder for showing Pres Obama how to stand up to GOP abuse and aggressiveness plus lies. Some enterprising investigative reporter should find out if Pres Obama was bullied in his formative years. I bet yes, as his behavior mirrors someone who has been bullied and does not like conflict.