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DOJ discloses unusual three-month delay in notifying reporter that his phone records had been subpoenaed

By PETE YOST Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) – The Justice Department engaged in a highly unusual three-month delay before notifying an Associated Press reporter that it had subpoenaed his home telephone records, according to information released Thursday by a senator.

In a Nov. 28 letter to Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, the department cited no other instance over the past decade where such a long delay had occurred.

The letter was in response to Grassley's questions about the subpoenaed phone records of AP reporter John Solomon.

In a May 4 story, Solomon disclosed that an FBI wiretap several years ago in an organized crime investigation had intercepted a conversation in which Sen. Robert Torricelli, D-N.J., discussed campaign donations. After the AP story ran, the Justice Department began a criminal investigation to find out who leaked the information about the wiretap.

There have been at least 88 instances in the past decade in which the department has authorized subpoenas for the news media, 12 of them for phone records, the +DOJ+ letter said. The others have been for documents or testimony from journalists.

The department said that it had engaged in delays in notifying reporters in just four other instances where journalists' phone records were subpoenaed. But those delays were for 45 days or less. The department gave no explanation for the longer three-month delay in the AP leak investigation.

Federal prosecutors notified Solomon in an Aug. 20 letter that his phone records had been subpoenaed for the period May 2 to May 7.

Grassley asked the Justice Department to identify who decided on the three-month delay.

"The Department of Justice takes very seriously issues regarding freedom of the press," but "we cannot ... ignore our responsibility to investigate and prosecute crimes," stated the letter by Assistant Attorney General Daniel Bryant.

Grassley said the subpoena was troubling because it sought to discover Solomon's sources. "Attempts to identify a reporter's sources create a chilling effect on whistle-blowers and others who speak out and expose government action," the Iowa senator said.

The department detailed 33 cases since 1991 in which the attorney general authorized subpoenas for testimony or documents from the news media for use in criminal trials.

Subpoenas for reporters' testimony was authorized 21 times, in most instances to verify the contents of published interviews with defendants.

In addition, the government subpoenaed videotapes in nine cases; subpoenaed reporters' notes in two cases; and subpoenaed an editor for copy of a partially published letter from a defendant.


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