U.S. Prosecutors Subpoena Reporter
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WASHINGTON (AP) _ Without required approval, U.S. prosecutors sent a subpoena to MSNBC demanding a reporter’s notes, e-mails and other information as part of an investigation into a nomadic young hacker who acknowledged breaking into computers at The New York Times earlier this year.
The subpoena, which was withdrawn weeks later, also demanded any similar material from MSNBC involving another journalist who contacted the Times on behalf of the newspaper hacker after the break-in, then wrote about it for an online publication.
Under guidelines from the Justice Department, Attorney General John Ashcroft or his deputy must personally approve any subpoenas sent to journalists, and Barbara Comstock, director of the Office of Public Affairs, must review such requests. But senior Justice officials on Ashcroft’s staff at headquarters said they were unfamiliar with the MSNBC subpoena, and Ms. Comstock said she did not review it, officials said.
``If that’s true ... they violated their own policy,″ said Lucy Dalglish, executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.
The subpoena was sent to MSNBC by an inexperienced assistant U.S. attorney in New York who did not know about guidelines for sending such court orders to news organizations, a federal official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. When senior officials in the office of U.S. Attorney James B. Comey Jr. found out, they instructed him to withdraw the subpoena, this official said.
The subpoena represents at least the second time since 2001 the Bush administration has tried to compel journalists to turn over information related to a criminal probe.
Herbert Hadad, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney in New York, declined to discuss it.
The Justice Department last year obtained the personal phone records of Associated Press reporter John Solomon after he wrote about a federal wiretap of Sen. Robert Torricelli.
MSNBC’s lawyer, Yuki Ishizuka, said it was unclear whether federal prosecutors will resubmit the subpoena, but the company has recently warned some reporters not to delete e-mails that might be connected to the case.
Ishizuka said the subpoena, withdrawn in mid-May, demanded from MSNBC reporter Bob Sullivan any e-mails or notes about conversations about the newspaper’s computer break-in with hacker Adrian Lamo and Kevin Poulsen, now an online journalist.