The U.S. Department of Justice's secret seizure of telephone records from The Associated Press news service is sending a chilling message to local journalists.
Published reports claim the U.S. government seized the records of more than 20 separate telephone lines assigned to the AP and its journalists in April and May of 2012 without notice.
So far the government won't say why it took the records. One official with the AP, however, is asking the DOJ for an immediate explanation and for the records to be returned, calling the action "a serious interference with AP's constitutional rights to gather and report the news."
Tom Blanton, director of the National Security Archive at George Washington University, says the DOJ s seizure could seriously compromise the AP's ability to do its job.
"I've seen quotations from people like Jonathan Landay, prize-winning reporter with McClatchy, who says, 'I can already see the chill from the increased attention of the Justice Department on these leak prosecutions, and I can see the chill from sources who have previously sat down with me.' So this chilling of the discourse between government and journalists is a real hazard to our democratic system," Blanton says.
This afternoon, Attorney General Eric Holder recused himself from the investigation of the seizure because of his involvement in an investigation about an AP story that disclosed details of a CIA operation in Yemen.