John Solomon’s Phone Records

Matt at TP follows up on Drudge’s report that John Solomon is moving to the Moonie Times as Executive Editor with a summary of Solomon’s greatest hits.

  • Solomon tried to link Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) to the Jack Abramoff scandal by reporting on Reid contacts with Abramoff-tied lobbyist, but overlooked the fact that Reid voted against lobbyists’ favored bill.
  • Solomon took comments by Ambassador Joe Wilson out of context in effort to claim he “acknowledged his wife was no longer in an undercover job at the time Novak’s column first identified her.”
  • In a non-story, Solomon reported that Reid accepted of boxing tickets from a state government agency, despite and then did the opposite of what the agency wanted.
  • In 2006, Solomon claimed that Reid “collected a $1.1 million windfall on a Las Vegas land sale,” even though Reid actually only made a $700,000 profit on the sale.
  • Solomon wrote a story calling Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) a hypocrite on campaign finance reform, but buried quotes by critics of big money in government exonerating him for “all the things the article criticizes him for doing.”
  • In July, Solomon “devoted nearly 1,300 words to the ‘controversy’ surrounding” John Edwards’ haircut.
  • In a front page story, Solomon baselessly suggested that John Edwards had engaged in a shady land deal, but never provided proper context for the sale. His reporting was criticized by the Post’s ombudsman.

As Matt says, all these stories make Solomon perfectly suited to work for a spooked-up crazy Korean who also happens to head up a cult.

But there’s one incident that makes this move even more interesting. Back in the halcyon pre-9/11 days, Solomon got involved into a fight with DOJ over his phone records. Basically, Solomon discovered that then Senator Robert Toricelli had been picked up on a wiretap of known mobsters, talking about fund-raising. The transcripts of the wiretaps Solomon received were grand jury materials; when Solomon wrote his story on the taps, he alerted the mobsters that they were tapped and publicized Torricelli’s mob ties. So DOJ got his phone records to figure out who his source was and to prevent him from doing further work on the story.

Charles Lewis: There were news accounts that in August 2001 your home phone records were subpoenaed secretly by a federal grand jury. Can you give a little context?

John Solomon: Sure. I was working on a series of stories about what the government knew about Sen. Robert Torricelli’s ethics misdoings and the body of evidence that was available [going] back to the early 1990s. I found that the U.S. Attorney’s Office in New Jersey had evidence that he had taken, basically, a loan guarantee from a donor (and long-time friend), bought some stocks and made a killing on it—a $144,000 profit. He repaid the loan, including less than $1,000 for the guarantee. Torricelli took this donor on a series of government-sponsored trade missions and hooked him up all across the world with the imprimatur of Congress. The U.S. attorney whose office declined prosecution was nominated by Torricelli to become a federal judge. She became a federal judge. The person he nominated to take her job then came into possession of new information. They intercepted Sen. Torricelli on a wiretap talking to some known mob folks just before the 1996 Democratic convention in Chicago, when they were basically talking about fundraising. I obtained excerpts of the wiretap, which would be covered by Grand Jury secrecy, wrote that story, and again the U.S. attorney declined prosecution. Torricelli had recommended that U.S. attorney for his job as well.

CL: Good Lord!

JS: Within five days of the second story running—the wiretap story—the U.S. attorney in New York, Mary Jo White, a leftover appointee of President Clinton, went to the Justice Department and asked for permission to subpoena my home phone records. Attorney General Ashcroft was recused from all matters involving Torricelli because he served with him in the Senate. Deputy Attorney General Larry Thompson had just been confirmed and had not yet started. So current FBI director Bob Mueller, then an assistant attorney general, was the acting attorney general for the matter and signed the warrant. They never informed the news media, even though the Justice Department guidelines require that you inform the media in advance of getting a reporter’s records or notebooks and that you enter into a period of negotiations to try to protect the First Amendment and Fourth Amendment privileges. They simply went and got my home phone records. The law required that they inform me within 30 days. They signed two extensions to 90 days. The second extension brought it just past the point when Mueller’s confirmation as FBI director had been completed and the Senate confirmed him. So the Senate never knew he had signed a warrant for a reporter’s phone records. Then they sent me a belated letter saying they had taken my phone records. The Justice Department has indicated to us that they were trying to identify the source of my stories. They were actually trying to stop the publication of a story [about Sen. Torricelli] that I was working on and tried to find out who I was talking to and cut off the flow of information. [my emphasis]

Thus far, the story is just the earliest example of the Bush Administration accessing information about journalists’ source. But once the Bush Administration got the information, things turned downright Nixonian.

[JS]: Later we went back after them and began investigating the issues. One of the things we found out was that the Justice Department was preparing a media onslaught to try to counter-attack the Associated Press and the media. We have evidence that they violated the Privacy Act and shared information and my phone records with people who they wanted to go on TV to try to impugn me.


CL: Do you think they found the name of your source when they got your home phone records? Did it worry you?

JS: I’m kind of constrained from talking about what I think they may have found… for many reasons. One is I don’t want to let them know what I might know. There is no doubt that they obtained a substantial block of my phone records.

Before all of the crummy reporting that Matt describes, John Solomon claims, the Bush Administration prepared an Ellsberg-like campaign to discredit Solomon’s reporting (and, perhaps, reporting more generally).

Through all of Solomon’s crummy reporting at the WaPo, I’ve wondered what the Bush Administration thought it had on Solomon. And now, as he moves to take over the Moonie Times, I’m wondering even more.

8 replies
  1. Jeff says:

    That reminds me of this:

    Minneapolis, Minn.: Thanks for doing the chat. With Scooter Libby’s trial in the news, I’m reminded that you did some great coverage of the CIA leak investigation. My question is: You were on the initial list of journalists whose contacts with administration figures investigators were interested in? Do you know why? Did you receive a leak about Valerie Plame?

    John Solomon: Thanks for your nice comments. The truth of the matter is that I did no reporting on the CIA leak case when the initial story was breaking. I was still working at that time on some investigative projects examining what the Bush administration, FBI and intelligence community knew about al-al Qaeda and terrorist threats before the 9-11 attacks. I rolled into the reporting when Fitzgerald took over the investigation in 2004. Because I did no original reporting on Plame, there should have been no reason for my name to be on any subpoena lists. I’ve heard this rumor many times, but have never found any records to substantiate that Justice intended to examine my contacts with sources on the CIA leak. Of course, Justice did seize my home phone records in a 2001 leak investigation. And in 2002, the FBI seized, without a warrant, a mailed package sent to me by a fellow reporter. The FBI later apologized and returned my mail. It’s possible people have confused those events.

    Probably irrelevant, but he does mention the possibility of a mixup. Sounds like he doesn’t get along with Mueller, eh.

    • emptywheel says:

      May be, may not be. It also may be that he’s so expert in recycling conservative oppo-research he was a natural to be on this list.

      Though quite simply, that list was only ever a list of people who had known contacts with the key players during leak week (like Evan Thomas), which means 1) Solomon was likely speaking to someone in OVP, OPA, or State (which makes sense if he was working on pre-9/11 stuff), and 2) Solomon doesn’t want to acknowledge that he shows up on those phone logs.

      • Jeff says:

        That’s a very good, innocent explanation. Though it still sounds like Solomon was on FBI’s shitlist.

  2. Slothrop says:

    And it leaves one wondering about the same tactics being applied to other journalists, not that Solomon is a shining example of the trade.

    Ellsberg-like is right.

    That would explain the hesitancy of the media to go after the Bush/Cheney regime on various mostly Constitutional issues.

    “You print that and we’ll release your phone records…”

  3. radiofreewill says:

    So, Solomon goes after Sen. Torricelli (D-NJ), using a Secret Grand Jury transcript, and the story he writes based on the transcript alerts the Mob that they’re being tapped!

    No wonder the FBI wanted to talk to Solomon – not to get his source, but to get the Criminal that Leaked the transcript.

    This guy sounds like One of Rove’s Kneepad Scribes. He may even have been considered for doing the hit piece that eventually went to Novak…and now he’s the Editor of the Washington Times.

    I wonder if Solomon is connected with the Off the Record Club?

      • radiofreewill says:

        Hi Nelson! Far from the Bushies being out to get Solomon, it’s the Bushies who appear to have protected and sponsored Solomon’s muckraking.

        Solomon is blaming ‘leftover’ Clintonistas for “an Un-Constitutional invasion of his privacy” – seizing his phone records – in an attempt to ‘get’ his Source for the Torricelli Hit-Piece Corruption stories.

        What Cult Boy gingerly tip-toes around is the fact that his ‘Source’ was Leaking excerpts of Secret Grand Jury Transcripts, which is a Crime.

        And, this was not a trivial leak, either – with his stories, Solomon blew-open the FBI’s RICO, and tipped the Mob that they were being watched. My guess is that the ‘leftover’ Clintonista, then-USA Mary Jo White, got Madder Than Hell that someone – probably in her Own Office – was the Leaker.

        She went straight for Solomon’s phone records to ID the Leaker, and, as EW speculates, she may have found more than just a bunch of calls to NY – she may have discovered calls to the WH or OVP or State, timed nicely to coincide with his articles.

        Stall, stall, stall…White leaves her position in 2002, new players come in, Torricelli ‘retires’ and…Solomon keeps churning out Hit-Pieces at the WaPo.

        Now that the Right Wing wants to set-up shop at the Moonie Times and ’snipe’ at the next (presumed Democratic) President – Solomon is just the right guy for them.

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