Did FBI First Request James Risen’s Phone Records Using the CAU Program?

In Josh Gerstein’s report on DOJ’s collection of James Risen’s phone and business records, he quotes University of Minnesota law professor Jane Kirtley saying that the government doesn’t give reporters notice when it collects telephone or business records on them.

Kirtley also said journalists often aren’t notified when the government asks telecom companies, banks or other service providers for their records.

DOJ must inform reporters if their call records have been subpoenaed

That may be the case in practice. But DOJ policy actually requires that journalists receive notice if their phone records are subpoenaed.

(g) In requesting the Attorney General’s authorization for a subpoena for the telephone toll records of members of the news media, the following principles will apply: (1) There should be reasonable ground to believe that a crime has been committed and that the information sought is essential to the successful investigation of that crime. The subpoena should be as narrowly drawn as possible; it should be directed at relevant information regarding a limited subject matter and should cover a reasonably limited time period. In addition, prior to seeking the Attorney General’s authorization, the government should have pursued all reasonable alternative investigation steps as required by paragraph (b) of this section.

(2) When there have been negotiations with a member of the news media whose telephone toll records are to be subpoenaed, the member shall be given reasonable and timely notice of the determination of the Attorney General to authorize the subpoena and that the government intends to issue it.

(3) When the telephone toll records of a member of the news media have been subpoenaed without the notice provided for in paragraph (e)(2) of this section, notification of the subpoena shall be given the member of the news media as soon thereafter as it is determined that such notification will no longer pose a clear and substantial threat to the integrity of the investigation. In any event, such notification shall occur within 45 days of any return made pursuant to the subpoena, except that the responsible Assistant Attorney General may authorize delay of notification for no more than an additional 45 days.

(4) Any information obtained as a result of a subpoena issued for telephone toll records shall be closely held so as to prevent disclosure of the information to unauthorized persons or for improper purposes.

From that we should assume that DOJ got the phone records by subpoenaing Sterling’s records, not Risen’s. But if that’s the case, you’d think the government would have just told Risen that when his lawyer asked whether his records had been subpoenaed back in 2008.

Risen said the government never notified him that they were seeking his phone records. But he said he got an inkling in 2008 that investigators had collected some information about his calls.

“We heard from several people who had been forced to testify to the grand jury that prosecutors had shown them phone records between me and those people—not the content of calls but the records of calls,” he said. “As a result of what they told us, my lawyers filed a motion with the court as asking how the Justice Department got these phone records and whether or not they had gotten my phone records.”

“We wanted the court to help us decide whether they had abided by the attorney general’s guidelines,” Risen said. “We never got an answer from the court or the government.”

In other words, there may be no cause for suspicion, except for the suspicious funkiness on the government’s part.

DOJ has refused to inform at least one reporter his or her records were subpoenaed

Now, there is one case we know of where DOJ collected information on a reporter’s phone records and did not inform him or her. The DOJ Inspector General Report on Exigent Letters describes three cases in which reporters’ phone records were collected through the telecom’s onsite Communications Analysis Unit. Two of these were collected using exigent letters; in both, the editors (for stories published in both the NYT and WaPo) and the journalist (for an Ellen Nakashima story) were informed the reporters’ records had been collected.

In the third case, the records were collected with a grand jury subpoena. Here’s what we know about the collection:

  • The investigative team included two federal prosecutors who appear to belong to a counterintelligence group at DOJ, an AUSA from the jurisdiction in which the grand jury was seated who was rubberstamping records for the investigation, the FBI case agent, and intelligence analysts.
  • The FBI case agent asked the CAU agent about how to do a phone records subpoena for the leak investigation, and the CAU agent referred the case agent to the telecom analysts at CAU for help with the subpoena. Following a meeting with (I think) an AT&T analyst, the case agent asked that analyst for boilerplate language to make sure the subpoena was “as encompassing as possible.” It appears from the report (though this information is highly redacted) that the resultant subpoena may have asked for the community of interest of the suspected leaker’s numbers. That is, it appears the subpoena asked for a network analysis of all the people who had directly contacted the target.
  • One of the two prosecutors used that boilerplate language to write up attachments to the subpoena; the rubberstamp AUSA never saw the attachments. This was the first subpoena the rubberstamp AUSA signed in the case.
  • The prosecutor that generated the subpoena claims–with an undated document to back up that claim–that the case agent told him the subpoena would not collect phone records for the reporter that–they both knew at the time–had been in phone contact with the suspected leaker. The case agent, however, did not recall such a discussion and claims it was “very unlikely” such a conversation occurred. The implication of this seems to be that the case agent knew full well he’d be getting the reporter’s call data.
  • In talking to a counterintelligence Special Agent, the prosecutor who generated the subpoena learned that such a subpoena could produce the records of reporters; he also learned there was a way to write the subpoena to avoid that from happening. Once he realized that, he had conversations with other DOJ lawyers and supervisors about what to do; they all agreed to seal the records. Though they sealed the records of the case agent and deleted them from his computer, they didn’t ask what CAU had done with the records, much less ask the CAU analyst to delete the records.
  • When the IG learned about all this, they finally checked whether this information got loaded into the investigative database. The target’s records were entered into the FBI database; the IG did not find any reporters’ information uploaded, though much of the report’s discussion on this topic is redacted.
  • DOJ’s Criminal Division informed the Court overseeing the grand jury of the subpoenas and the “corrective actions” taken.

After learning all this, the IG asked DOJ whether it should have notified the reporter in question per the policy cited above. Here’s what happened:

The Criminal Division and the OIG asked the Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) to opine on the question when the notification provision in the regulation would be triggered. Read more

It’s Not Just that Levin Was Ousted–It’s Bradbury’s Trial Run on Torture

ABC reports something that had been somewhat clear for some time. Daniel Levin was ousted from the Office of Legal Counsel after he wrote a memo that limited the use of torture.

Former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, now under investigation for allegedly politicizing the Justice Department, ousted a top lawyer for failing to adopt the administration’s position on torture and then promised him a position as a U.S. attorney to placate him, highly placed sources tell ABC News.

Gonzales, who was just taking over as attorney general, asked Justice Department lawyer Daniel Levin to leave in early 2005, shortly after Levin wrote a legal opinion that declared "torture is abhorrent" and limited the administration’s use of harsh interrogation techniques.

At the time, Levin was in the middle of drafting a second, critical memo that analyzed the legality of specific interrogation techniques, like waterboarding.

Gonzales, however, was concerned about how it would be perceived if Levin were ousted immediately after issuing the opinion — and just before he finished another — so he offered Levin a less significant job outside the Department of Justice at the National Security Council, sources tell ABC News.


Levin took the NSC job in March 2005. The U.S. attorney position never materialized, and sources close to Levin say he never believed Gonzales was serious.

As ABC points out, Kyle Sampson floated Levin’s name to replace Kevin Ryan in San Francisco.

But what ABC only hints at is what happened next: the trial run of Stephen Bradbury for the position of OLC head. Within months after Levin was ousted, we know, Bradbury wrote three new memos on torture, endorsing the combined use of harsh techniques.

When the Justice Department publicly declared torture “abhorrent” in a legal opinion in December 2004, the Bush administration appeared to have abandoned its assertion of nearly unlimited presidential authority to order brutal interrogations.

But soon after Alberto R. Gonzales’s arrival as attorney general in February 2005, the Justice Department issued another opinion, this one in secret. It was a very different document, according to officials briefed on it, an expansive endorsement of the harshest interrogation techniques ever used by the Central Intelligence Agency.

The new opinion, the officials said, for the first time provided explicit authorization to barrage terror suspects with a combination of painful physical and psychological tactics, including head-slapping, simulated drowning and frigid temperatures.

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Mukasey, Orwell, and Bradbury

Keith Olbermann notes, with great dismay, that Michael Mukasey chose to hang a portrait of George Orwell in his office (the other portrait is Chief Justice Robert Jackson, which makes me quite happy).

This would be the original Reuters story. The operative part would seem to be the AG’s insistence that he esteems Eric Blair, AKA Orwell, for the clarity, not the subject, of his writing.

I’m still not sure I haven’t gotten a very specific "Your Worst Fear Suddenly Materializes In Real Life As A Matter-Of-Fact Wire Story" moment going on here. Or maybe it’s some sort of "You’ve Been A Good Boy: Here Is Six Weeks Worth Of Jokes, No Lifting Involved" thing.

For the record, I’m willing to take Mukasey at his word–that he esteems Orwell for the clarity of his prose and, just as importantly, for his understanding of the way politics demeans language.

In our time, political speech and writing are largely the defense of the indefensible. Things like the continuance of British rule in India, the Russian purges and deportations, the dropping of the atom bombs on Japan, can indeed be defended, but only by arguments which are too brutal for most people to face, and which do not square with the professed aims of the political parties. Thus political language has to consist largely of euphemism., question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness. Defenseless villages are bombarded from the air, the inhabitants driven out into the countryside, the cattle machine-gunned, the huts set on fire with incendiary bullets: this is called pacification. Millions of peasants are robbed of their farms and sent trudging along the roads with no more than they can carry: this is called transfer of population or rectification of frontiers. People are imprisoned for years without trial, or shot in the back of the neck or sent to die of scurvy in Arctic lumber camps: this is called elimination of unreliable elements. Such phraseology is needed if one wants to name things without calling up mental pictures of them.

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