Holder OK’d search warrant for Fox News reporter’s private emails, official says.

Holder OK’d search warrant for Fox News reporter’s private emails, official says

Chip Somodevilla / Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images file

Attorney General Eric Holder agreed to a review of Justice Department guidelines for investigations involving journalists, President Barack Obama said Thursday.

By Michael Isikoff
National Investigative Correspondent, NBC News

Attorney General Eric Holder signed off on a controversial search warrant that identified Fox News reporter James Rosen as a “possible co-conspirator” in violations of the Espionage Act and authorized seizure of his private emails, a law enforcement official told NBC News on Thursday.

The disclosure of the attorney general’s role came as President Barack Obama, in a major speech on his counterterrorism policy, said Holder had agreed to review Justice Department guidelines governing investigations that involve journalists.

“I am troubled by the possibility that leak investigations may chill the investigative journalism that holds government accountable,” Obama said. “Journalists should not be at legal risk for doing their jobs.”

Rosen, who has not been charged in the case, was nonetheless the target of a search warrant that enabled Justice Department investigators to secretly seize his private emails after an FBI agent said he had “asked, solicited and encouraged … (a source) to disclose sensitive United States internal documents and intelligence information.”

Obama’s comments follow a firestorm of criticism that has erupted over disclosures that in separate investigations of leaks of classified information, the Justice Department had obtained private emails that Rosen exchanged with a source and the phone records of Associated Press reporters.

 Holder previously said he recused himself from the AP subpoena because he had been questioned as a witness in the underlying investigation into a leak about a foiled bomb plot in Yemen. His role in personally approving the Rosen search warrant had not been previously reported.

A Justice Department spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The Department of Justice later issued a statement about the review of media guidelines: “This review is consistent with Attorney General Holder’s long-standing belief that freedom of the press is essential to our democracy,” it said. “At the same time, the attorney general believes that leaks of classified information damage our national security and must be investigated using appropriate law enforcement tools.  We remain steadfast in our commitment to following all laws and regulations intended to safeguard national security as well as the First Amendment interests of the press in reporting the news and the public in receiving it.”

The law enforcement official said Holder’s approval of the Rosen search, in the spring of 2010, came after senior Justice officials concluded there was “probable cause” that Rosen’s communications with his source, identified as intelligence analyst Stephen Kim, met the legal burden for such searches. “It was approved at the highest levels– and I mean the highest,” said the law enforcement official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. He said that explicitly included Holder.

Kim has since been indicted on charges that he leaked classified information to Rosen about how North Korea would respond to a United Nations resolution condemning the country’s nuclear program. He has denied the charges.

In an affidavit in support of a search warrant to Google for Rosen’s emails, an FBI agent wrote that the Fox News journalist — identified only as “the Reporter” — had “asked, solicited and encouraged Mr. Kim to disclose sensitive United States internal documents and intelligence information.”

“The Reporter did so by employing flattery and playing to Mr. Kim’s vanity and ego,” it continued. “Much like an intelligence officer would run a clandestine intelligence source, the Reporter instructed Mr. Kim on a covert communications plan that involved” emails from his gmail account.

 The affidavit states that FBI agents had tracked Rosen’s entrances and exits of the State Department in order to show that they had coincided with Kim’s movements. Based on that and other findings, the affidavit by FBI Agent Reginald B. Reyes, stated, “There is probable cause to believe that the Reporter has committed a violation” of the Espionage Act “at the very least, either as an aider, abettor and/or co-conspirator of Mr. Kim.”

It also said that Google was specifically instructed not to notify “the subscriber” — Rosen — that his emails were being seized.

In new documents disclosed Thursday, the Justice Department sought and obtained approval to keep the search warrant, which was approved by a federal magistrate, under seal. It was unsealed in November 2011, but never made a part of the docket of Kim’s case and went unnoticed until this week.

Justice officials have since said they do not intend to criminally charge Rosen, but media groups have condemned the issuance of the search warrant itself.

“The Justice Department’s decision to treat routine newsgathering efforts as evidence of criminality is extremely troubling and corrodes time-honored understandings between the public and the government about the role of the free press,” said Bruce Brown, executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.

In his speech Thursday, Obama reiterated his determination to pursue leak investigations. “We must enforce consequences for those who break the law and breach their commitment to protect classified information,” he said.

But, he said, “Our focus must be on those who break the law,” not journalists. He said he was calling on Congress to pass a media shield law and had raised the issue with Holder, “who shares my concern.”

As part of the Justice Department review of guidelines, the president said, Holder will convene a group of media organizations to hear their views and “report back to me by July 12th.”

NBC News Chief Justice Correspondent Pete Williams contributed to this report.

 

Press is finally starting to treat it like Watergate.

Benghazi, IRS: Son of Watergate?

Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, discusses the ongoing hearings into the attacks on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya.

Cal ThomasTribune Media Services4:30 a.m. CDT, May 14, 2013
In his defense of President Obama, Press Secretary Jay Carney is beginning to sound a lot like Ronald Zeigler, Richard Nixon’s spokesman. Carney only has to use the word “inoperative,” as Ziegler did when incriminating evidence surfaced that proved his previous statements untrue.Following what appears to be a cover-up in the Benghazi attack, the Washington Post has obtained documents from an audit conducted by the IRS’s inspector general that indicate the agency targeted for special scrutiny conservative groups with “tea party” and “patriot” in their names, as well as “nonprofit groups that criticized the government and sought to educate Americans about the U.S. Constitution.”

  • CAL THOMAS
  • Cal Thomas
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  • Editorial: Why did the IRS muscle the right?

IRS official Lois Lerner described the targeting efforts as “absolutely inappropriate,” but said IRS actions were not driven by partisanship. How, then, would she explain why no groups with “progressive” in their titles were similarly targeted? Carney labeled Lerner an “appointee from the previous administration.” In other words: Bush’s mistake, not Obama’s.

The Post’s editorial board writes, “A bedrock principle of U.S. democracy is that the coercive powers of government are never used for partisan purpose.” The board called for a full accounting. I doubt we’ll get it. Take Benghazi.

ABC News first reported that the now famous Benghazi “talking points” used by U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice on five Sunday morning news shows were revised 12 times, deleting references to “the al-Qaida-affiliated group Ansar al-Sharia (and) CIA warnings about terrorist threats in Benghazi in the months preceding the attack.”

Carney said Ambassador Rice’s initial claim — that the attack grew out of protests over a video that insulted Islam — was based on what was known to U.S. intelligence at the time. But as last week’s testimony by three whistleblowers before the House Oversight Committee revealed, much more was known at the time.

Contributing to cover-up suspicions is the administration’s continued stonewalling when asked to provide information on Benghazi. CNN sources acknowledge that “An email discussion about talking points the Obama administration used to describe the deadly attack on the U.S. compound in Benghazi, Libya, show the White House and State Department were more involved than they first said…” The American people deserve the full story.

The latest, but probably not the last shocker, is a report in The Daily Caller about CBS News Correspondent Sharyl Attkisson, who has “steadily covered the Obama administration’s handling of the Benghazi terrorist attack in Libya,” reportedly frustrating CBS News executives who claim her unrelenting coverage is “bordering on advocacy” on the issue. Now, according to Politico, Attkisson can’t get some of her stories about Benghazi on the air. Oh, did I fail to mention that CBS News President David Rhodes is the brother of Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes? Coincidental? Attkisson is reportedly in talks to leave the network. Is it because she chooses to behave like a real journalist instead of a cheerleader for Obama?

On Friday, Carney held a “secret briefing” on Benghazi for a select number of White House reporters, raising the ire of reporters not in the room. Is this what the Obama administration calls transparency?

Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA) has asked Speaker John Boehner to name a select committee to investigate the Benghazi attack with full subpoena powers that could place witnesses under oath. Boehner should. Meanwhile, House Oversight Subcommittee Chairman Charles Boustany (R-LA) has demanded the IRS turn over by Wednesday all communications containing the words “conservative,” “patriot” or “tea party.” And the IRS should.

Democrats now accuse Republicans of partisanship, claiming their motive is to damage Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential prospects. If she has nothing to hide, transparency should enhance, not harm, her chances. We’ve learned more about Benghazi since her appearance before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in January and she should be asked to account for it.

In 1972, Republican partisans initially accused Democrats of wanting to destroy President Nixon, but most were forced to acknowledge his culpability in Watergate once the facts became known. One of the Articles of Impeachment of Nixon concerned his misuse of the IRS to undermine political enemies.

Journalists should stop protecting President Obama and Hillary Clinton and do their jobs, like Sharyl Attkisson. Congressional Republicans should press for all the facts. That’s their job.

Scandal politics sweep Capitol Hill

Capitol Hill is pictured. | AP Photo

House committees will morph into mock courtrooms with the White House as defendant. | AP Photo

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By JAKE SHERMAN and LAUREN FRENCH | 5/13/13 7:15 PM EDT

Scandal politics are sweeping Capitol Hill.

Just days after news broke that the IRS targeted conservative nonprofits, Speaker John Boehner’s House committees will morph into mock courtrooms where the White House will be the defendant in what amounts to a number of high-stakes political trials.

The most recent scandal to grip the Obama administration came Monday evening, when The Associated Press disclosed that the Justice Department sought its reporters’ phone records — including those of correspondents who sit in the Capitol. Within hours, House Republicans vowed to investigate. To make things worse for President Barack Obama, Attorney General Eric Holder is scheduled to be on Capitol Hill Wednesday for a House Judiciary Committee hearing.

(Also on POLITICO: Journalists fume over DOJ raid on AP)

That’s hardly the president’s only problem.

Two separate committees — Oversight and Government Reform, and Ways and Means — will probe whether the IRS was treating right-leaning groups unfairly. Republicans moved swiftly to secure the IRS acting director for a Friday hearing, just a week after the news broke. GOP aides hinted Monday afternoon that widespread calls for the director’s resignation could come shortly.

The panels will probe whether the targeting of right-leaning groups is systematic, or isolated. Ways and Means Republicans say they are interested in when top IRS officials, specifically former Commissioner Douglas Shulman was told about search terms used to single out conservative groups. Shulman told Ways and Means members in March 2012 that the IRS was not engaged in any manner of political targeting.

(PHOTOS: 10 slams on the IRS)

Top GOP sources acknowledge that it’s highly unlikely the White House was directly involved in the IRS mess, but the probe is sure to add to the Republican-spun narrative of Democratic, Big Government overreach.

The IRS probes might be new to the public, but they’re not to House Republicans, who have long worried about politicization at the agency. The hot-button topic has come up in several committee hearings since the GOP took the majority.

The inquest into the IRS is just the latest in a string of GOP-led investigations suddenly gaining steam on Capitol Hill. Instead of negotiating with the White House, GOP lawmakers are now investigating it.

There are currently five separate committee investigations into the attack on a U.S. diplomatic outpost in Benghazi, and a probe into Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius raising millions of dollars to promote Obamacare. Ways and Means is demanding answers to seven questions on this matter, as well.

(PHOTOS: 10 hits on Obama and Benghazi)

All together, roughly one-third of House committees are engaged in investigating some aspect of the Obama administration.

“The speaker and other House leaders have been clear: Effective, responsible oversight is a key constitutional responsibility of Congress,” said Michael Steel, Boehner’s spokesman. “Whether the topic is the truth about Benghazi, thuggish political attacks from the IRS or the ‘train wreck’ of the president’s health care law, we will keeping fighting to make sure the American people know the truth.”

Government seizes AP phone records

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By ASSOCIATED PRESS |

5/13/13 4:30 PM EDT

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Justice Department secretly obtained two months of telephone records of reporters and editors for The Associated Press in what the news cooperative’s top executive called a “massive and unprecedented intrusion” into how news organizations gather the news.

The records obtained by the Justice Department listed incoming and outgoing calls, and the duration of each call, for the work and personal phone numbers of individual reporters, general AP office numbers in New York, Washington and Hartford, Conn., and the main number for AP reporters in the House of Representatives press gallery, according to attorneys for the AP.

In all, the government seized those records for more than 20 separate telephone lines assigned to AP and its journalists in April and May of 2012. The exact number of journalists who used the phone lines during that period is unknown but more than 100 journalists work in the offices whose phone records were targeted on a wide array of stories about government and other matters.

(WATCH: Darrell Issa: AP report prompts DOJ review)

In a letter of protest sent to Attorney General Eric Holder on Monday, AP President and Chief Executive Officer Gary Pruitt said the government sought and obtained information far beyond anything that could be justified by any specific investigation. He demanded the return of the phone records and destruction of all copies.

“There can be no possible justification for such an overbroad collection of the telephone communications of The Associated Press and its reporters. These records potentially reveal communications with confidential sources across all of the newsgathering activities undertaken by the AP during a two-month period, provide a road map to AP’s newsgathering operations, and disclose information about AP’s activities and operations that the government has no conceivable right to know,” Pruitt said.

The government would not say why it sought the records. U.S. officials have previously said in public testimony that the U.S. attorney in Washington is conducting a criminal investigation into who may have leaked information contained in a May 7, 2012, AP story about a foiled terror plot. The story disclosed details of a CIA operation in Yemen that stopped an al-Qaida plot in the spring of 2012 to detonate a bomb on an airplane bound for the United States.

In testimony in February, CIA Director John Brennan noted that the FBI had questioned him about whether he was AP’s source, which he denied. He called the release of the information to the media about the terror plot an “unauthorized and dangerous disclosure of classified information.”

Prosecutors have sought phone records from reporters before, but the seizure of records from such a wide array of AP offices, including general AP switchboards numbers and an office-wide shared fax line, is unusual and largely unprecedented.

In the letter notifying the AP received Friday, the Justice Department offered no explanation for the seizure, according to Pruitt’s letter and attorneys for the AP. The records were presumably obtained from phone companies earlier this year although the government letter did not explain that. None of the information provided by the government to the AP suggested the actual phone conversations were monitored.

Among those whose phone numbers were obtained were five reporters and an editor who were involved in the May 7, 2012 story.

The Obama administration has aggressively investigated disclosures of classified information to the media and has brought six cases against people suspected of leaking classified information, more than under all previous presidents combined.

Justice Department published rules require that subpoenas of records from news organizations must be personally approved by the attorney general but it was not known if that happened in this case. The letter notifying AP that its phone records had been obtained though subpoenas was sent Friday by Ronald Machen, the U.S. attorney in Washington.

Spokesmen in Machen’s office and at the Justice Department had no immediate comment on Monday.

The Justice Department lays out strict rules for efforts to get phone records from news organizations. A subpoena can only be considered after “all reasonable attempts” have been made to get the same information from other sources, the rules say. It was unclear what other steps, in total, the Justice Department has taken to get information in the case.

A subpoena to the media must be “as narrowly drawn as possible” and “should be directed at relevant information regarding a limited subject matter and should cover a reasonably limited time period,” according to the rules.

The reason for these constraints, the department says, is to avoid actions that “might impair the news gathering function” because the government recognizes that “freedom of the press can be no broader than the freedom of reporters to investigate and report the news.”

News organizations normally are notified in advance that the government wants phone records and enter into negotiations over the desired information. In this case, however, the government, in its letter to the AP, cited an exemption to those rules that holds that prior notification can be waived if such notice, in the exemption’s wording, might “pose a substantial threat to the integrity of the investigation.”

It is unknown whether a judge or a grand jury signed off on the subpoenas.

The May 7, 2012, AP story that disclosed details of the CIA operation in Yemen to stop an airliner bomb plot occurred around the one-year anniversary of the May 2, 2011, killing of Osama bin Laden.

The plot was significant because the White House had told the public it had “no credible information that terrorist organizations, including al-Qaida, are plotting attacks in the U.S. to coincide with the (May 2) anniversary of bin Laden’s death.”

The AP delayed reporting the story at the request of government officials who said it would jeopardize national security. Once government officials said those concerns were allayed, the AP disclosed the plot because officials said it no longer endangered national security. The Obama administration, however, continued to request that the story be held until the administration could make an official announcement.

The May 7 story was written by reporters Matt Apuzzo and Adam Goldman with contributions from reporters Kimberly Dozier, Eileen Sullivan and Alan Fram. They and their editor, Ted Bridis, were among the journalists whose April-May 2012 phone records were seized by the government.

Brennan talked about the AP story and leaks investigation in written testimony to the Senate. “The irresponsible and damaging leak of classified information was made … when someone informed the Associated Press that the U.S. Government had intercepted an IED (improvised explosive device) that was supposed to be used in an attack and that the U.S. Government currently had that IED in its possession and was analyzing it,” he said.

He also defended the White House’s plan to discuss the plot immediately afterward. “Once someone leaked information about interdiction of the IED and that the IED was actually in our possession, it was imperative to inform the American people consistent with Government policy that there was never any danger to the American people associated with this al-Qa’ida plot,” Brennan told senators.

UPDATE (4:36 p.m. (DB)): Pruitt’s full letter to Attorney General Holder:

There can be no possible justification for such an overbroad collection of the telephone communications of The Associated Press and its reporters. These records potentially reveal communications with confidential sources across all of the newsgathering activities undertaken by the AP during a two-month period, provide a road map to AP’s newsgathering operations, and disclose information about AP’s activities and operations that the government has no conceivable right to know.

We regard this action by the Department of Justice as a serious interference with AP’s constitutional rights to gather and report the news.

UPDATE (5:08 p.m. (DB)): The Dept. of Justice has released the following statement:

We take seriously our obligations to follow all applicable laws, federal regulations, and Department of Justice policies when issuing subpoenas for phone records of media organizations. Those regulations require us to make every reasonable effort to obtain information through alternative means before even considering a subpoena for the phone records of a member of the media. We must notify the media organization in advance unless doing so would pose a substantial threat to the integrity of the investigation. Because we value the freedom of the press, we are always careful and deliberative in seeking to strike the right balance between the public interest in the free flow of information and the public interest in the fair and effective administration of our criminal laws.

UPDATE (6:25 p.m. (DB)): House Oversight Committee chairman Darrell Issa has released the following statement:

This is obviously disturbing. Coming within a week of revelations that the White House lied to the American people about the Benghazi attacks and the IRS targeted conservative Americans for their political beliefs, Americans should take notice that top Obama Administration officials increasingly see themselves as above the law and emboldened by the belief that they don’t have to answer to anyone.  I will work with my fellow House Chairmen on an appropriate response to Obama Administration officials.

Associated Press drops use of “illegal immigrant” and “Islamist.”

‘Illegal Immigrant’ Banished From AP Stylebook

The news wire service says it’s removing ‘labels’ as critics seethe

By STEVEN NELSON

April 3,2013

Humberto Gonzales, busted for illegally residing in the U.S., rides aboard a bus abound for the Texas-Mexico border, May 25, 2010.Humberto Gonzales, busted for illegally residing in the U.S., rides aboard a bus bound for the Texas-Mexico border, May 25, 2010.

The Associated Press decreed Tuesday afternoon that the term “illegal immigrant” is no longer appropriate to describe people who reside in the United States without legal permission.

An update the AP’s influential stylebook was blasted out in an email to subscribers of the guide’s online version, saying in part, “Except in direct quotes essential to the story, use illegal only to refer to an action, not a person: illegal immigration, but not illegal immigrant.”

A blog post the AP’s senior vice president and executive editor, Kathleen Carroll, elaborated that the news organization “had in other areas been ridding the Stylebook of labels” and ultimately decided it was best to only label specific behaviors as illegal.

Debate over the term is highly political. Opponents of illegal immigration fear softening the language is a move to subtly shift the policy debate over immigration reform away from enforcing current immigration laws.

Maricopa County, Ariz., Sheriff Joe Arpaio is one of the nation’s foremost anti-illegal immigration hawks. Arpaio told U.S. News Wednesday, “If a person enters the United States illegally, that’s how we should refer to their status and not try to soften the crime of entering illegally by calling it something else.”

William Gheen, president of Americans for Legal Immigration,told the Los Angeles Times that the AP’s “Big Brother” style update was “political correctness on steroids.” Gheen told the Times his group will begin using the term “illegal invader.” On Tuesday evening late-night TV host Jay Leno joked that he would use the term “undocumented Democrats.”

The AP previously defended its use of the term “illegal immigrant.”

AP Deputy Managing Editor Tom Kent wrote in an October 2012 memo excerpted by the Poynter Institute: “Terms like ‘undocumented’ and ‘unauthorized’ can make a person’s illegal presence in the country appear to be a matter of minor paperwork. Many illegal immigrants aren’t “undocumented” at all; they may have a birth certificate and passport from their home country, plus a U.S. driver’s license, Social Security card or school ID. What they lack is the fundamental right to be in the United States.”

Following the AP’s Tuesday announcement, the public editor of The New York Times disclosed that it too was preparing to announce a revision this week to its stylebook entry for the term “illegal immigrant.” That change “will probably be more incremental” and introduce a more nuanced offering of terminology, rather than an outright ban on the term, according to The Times.

More News:

The Associated Press Revises Another Politically Charged Term

Stylebook entry for ‘Islamist’ revised two days after ‘illegal immigrant’ dropped

By STEVEN NELSON

April 4, 2013 RSS Feed Print

Jordanian demonstrators burn an Israeli flag and shout slogans in Amman, Feb. 23, 2007.Jordanian demonstrators burn an Israeli flag and shout slogans in Amman, Feb. 23, 2007.

Following on the heels of the Tuesday decision by The Associated Press to discontinue use of the term “illegal immigrant,” the news agency on Thursday revised its stylebook entry for another politically charged term.

The term “Islamist,” the AP clarified in a Thursday afternoon alert to online stylebook subscribers, should not be used as “a synonym for Islamic fighters, militants, extremists or radicals.”

[DEFIANT: Some Lawmakers Will Still Say ‘Illegal Immigrant’]

“Islamist” is frequently used as a label for conservative Islamic political movements, particularly Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas, the group’s Palestinian offshoot. It generally carries a negative connotation.

The AP first added the term to its stylebook in 2012. The definition initially read:

Supporter of government in accord with the laws of Islam. Those who view the Quran as a political model encompass a wide range of Muslims, from mainstream politicians to militants known as jihadi.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations, an American advocacy group sometimes labeled “Islamist” by critics, previously lobbied for the AP to drop the term. In a January op-ed CAIR’s communications director, Ibrahim Hooper, wrote the term “has become shorthand for ‘Muslims we don’t like'” and “is currently used in an almost exclusively pejorative context.”

As of Thursday’s update, the AP definition reads:

An advocate or supporter of a political movement that favors reordering government and society in accordance with laws prescribed by Islam. Do not use as a synonym for Islamic fighters, militants, extremists or radicals, who may or may not be Islamists.

Where possible, be specific and use the name of militant affiliations: al-Qaida-linked, Hezbollah, Taliban, etc. Those who view the Quran as a political model encompass a wide range of Muslims, from mainstream politicians to militants known as jihadi.

CAIR praised the AP’s update. “We believe this revision is a step in the right direction and will result in fewer negative generalizations in coverage of issues related to Islam and Muslims,” Hooper said. “The key issue with the term ‘Islamist’ is not its continued use; the issue is its use almost exclusively as an ill-defined pejorative.”

The AP’s decision to discontinue “illegal immigrant” was part of an ongoing process of “ridding the Stylebook of labels,” the organization’s senior vice president and executive editor, Kathleen Carroll, said in a blog post. It was immediately criticized by opponents of illegal immigration, including Maricopa County, Ariz., Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who told U.S. News he objected to efforts “to soften the crime of entering illegally.”

 

Update (04/05/13): This article has been updated with a statement from Ibrahim Hooper.

  • Nelson, Steven

    Steven Nelson is a producer at U.S. News & World Report. You can follow him on Twitter or reach him at snelson@usnews.com.

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