08.11.08

Leahy, Specter Press Mueller For Information About Improper FBI Access Of Reporters’ Phone Records

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Ranking Member Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) sent a letter Monday to Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Director Robert Mueller pressing the Director to provide more information to Committee members about the misuse of so-called “exigent letters.”  Press accounts last week revealed that Mueller apologized to editors at The New York Times and The Washington Post for a 2004 breach of Department of Justice guidelines regarding subpoenas for reporters’ phone records.

The Department of Justice’s Inspector General has been investigating the FBI’s use of national security letters, and a March 2007 IG report first identified the FBI’s misuse of exigent letters.  According to press accounts, FBI agents misused exigent letters to obtain the phone records ofPost and Times reporters based in Indonesia in 2004.

“While we commend you for personally apologizing to the newspapers on behalf of the FBI, and for personally bringing this matter to the Committee’s attention, we expect to receive a more complete accounting of this violation of the Justice Department’s guidelines intended to protect privacy and journalists’ First Amendment rights,” Leahy and Specter wrote.

 

Leahy and Specter have both advocated for passage of the Free Flow of Information Act, federal legislation that seeks to establish a qualified privilege for reporters who have promised confidentiality to sources.  The administration has opposed the bill, arguing that the Department of Justice guidelines provide adequate protection.  The proposed legislation would protect public access to information and news, recognizing that for a free press to act as a check on government and to expose fraud in the public and private sector, reporters often must promise confidentiality to a source.

 

“If nothing else, these new findings suggest a pressing need for the legislation we have cosponsored with a bipartisan group of Senators to create a qualified privilege for reporters,” Leahy and Specter continued. 

 

The full text of the letter follows.  A PDF is also available here.

 

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