Aside from phone records, the department said it has subpoenaed journalists an additional 60 times since 1991 for documents, testimony or both.
The statement came in response to questions over the department’s decision to obtain home telephone records of an AP reporter in May.
The reporter, John Solomon, who heads the AP’s investigative unit in Washington, wrote a story May 4 that quoted unnamed government officials as saying Sen. Robert Torricelli had been overheard on an FBI wiretap related to an organized crime investigation. It would be illegal for a government official to release information related to a federal wiretap.
Solomon was told in August that the U.S. Attorney’s office in New York had obtained records of his incoming and outgoing calls for the period between May 2 and May 7.
Yesterday’s disclosure prompted a series of questions from Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA). Grassley, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, sent a letter to Attorney General John Ashcroft Sept. 4 seeking documents that led to the Solomon subpoena and a timeline of events surrounding the decision to grant it.
Among Grassley’s questions was how many of the subpoenas, “particularly the subpoenas for toll records, were done without notifying the reporter” and how many of the subpoenas “involved revealing a reporter’s source(s)”.
Grassley also asked for a brief description of each subpoena, its affected parties and material and what the Justice Department eventually obtained from them. He requested responses to be returned by Sept. 24.
Justice Dept. Spokeswoman Susan Dryden told the AP that information would be difficult to determine.
If Solomon had been told of the subpoena ahead of time, the AP could have challenged the action in court.
The department said it subpoenaed reporters’ phone records three times each in 1992 and 1997, twice in 1995, and once each in 1991, 1993, 1996 and 1999.