DOJ Clarifies That Only “A Portion” of Two Months of Telephone Records Were Collected

Most of the reporting on the DOJ investigation into the leak to the AP has said that the DOJ obtained two months of telephone records. The claim of a two-month period comes from the AP’s own reporting about what DOJ disclosed to the AP in its notice about the collection. The AP story began: “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.” (emphasis added)

According to a recent clarification by DOJ, however, that reporting was wrong. In a letter signed by Deputy AG James Cole, DOJ pointed out that although the subpoenas covered calls made during two calendar months, April and May 2012, the subpoenas only covered “a portion of that two-month period.” The DOJ letter doesn’t go into more detail than that, citing the need to keep the investigation confidential. But recall that the government asked the AP to delay running the story on May 2, 2012, and that the AP held the story for a few days until publishing it on May 7, 2012. Given that the action here occurred at the beginning of a month, the fact that the records were obtained relating to calls during two calendar months doesn’t indicate that the records were collected over a long period of time. It might have been a week or two, or even less; we just don’t know. We only know that the start date was some time in the month of April and the end date was some time in the month of May.

It will be interesting to see if press coverage will correct that error from the initial coverage of the story, or if media reports will continue to say that two months of records were collected.