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WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Associated Press has asked Attorney General John Ashcroft for a public accounting of the subpoena of an AP reporter’s home telephone records.
Louis D. Boccardi, AP president and chief executive, called the subpoena ``an extraordinary strike against the press.″ Boccardi told Ashcroft that federal investigators did not inform the AP of the subpoena in advance and failed to demonstrate that all alternate means of getting the information had been exhausted.
In a letter to Ashcroft, Boccardi also asked the Justice Department to destroy all copies of AP reporter John Solomon’s records and not to use them.
``I recognize that this would be little more than symbolic, since you held these records in secret for three months before giving Mr. Solomon the required notice,″ Boccardi wrote. ``But symbolism is important in the delicate intersection of press and government in our nation and this is one of the reasons why so many of us find the tone, spirit and fact of the department’s actions so reprehensible.″
The department said it was reviewing the letter.
The Justice Department went after Solomon’s records while trying to learn the identity of law enforcement officials who told the AP about a wiretap intercept of Sen. Robert Torricelli, D-N.J.
The department obtained Solomon’s records 10 days after a May 4 AP story about the wiretap in an organized-crime investigation that led to guilty pleas by the operators of a Florida pizzeria.
The AP reporter found out about the May subpoena on Aug. 26 when he returned from vacation and opened a notification letter from the government.
``It staggers the imagination to think that in President Bush’s Justice Department one reaches that level of gravity with an effort to find a leaker on a tangential five-year-old matter on which Sen. Torricelli was accidentally involved and indeed absolved,″ Boccardi wrote.
He also called on Ashcroft to explain:
_Why the subpoena was thought to be necessary.
_What other steps were taken to get the information before Solomon’s telephone records were obtained.
_Why the federal officials waited more than 90 days to inform the AP of the action.
_Whether any other information or records about Solomon were obtained.
The subpoena has drawn editorial criticism from dozens of newspapers, and a number of media groups have asked Justice for an accounting of the subpoena.
On Monday, the International Press Institute lodged a protest with Ashcroft, saying the subpoena would inhibit press freedom.
``Central to any democratic society is the free flow of information. In seeking retribution for information provided to the media, the government is hindering the flow of that information and journalists will find it increasingly difficult to find people willing to speak on matters of import,″ said Johann P. Fritz, director of the group.