The AP reported Monday that the Justice Department seized records that "listed outgoing calls for the work and personal phone numbers" of AP reporters using more than 20 separate telephone lines in April and May of last year.
Justice did not tell AP why it sought these records. But Attorney General Eric Holder made a statement on Tuesday that seemed to confirm that the department did it as part of an investigation into who leaked to AP some details of a 2012 CIA operation that targeted an al-Qaida plot to blow up an airliner.
Even that, however, would not explain why Justice indiscriminately targeted so many phones used by so many reporters.
"There can be no possible justification for such an overbroad collection of the telephone communications of The Associated Press and its reporters," AP President Gary Pruitt said in a letter to Holder. "These records potentially reveal communications with confidential sources across all of the newsgathering activities undertaken by the AP during a two-month period, provide a road map to AP's newsgathering operations and disclose information about AP's activities and operations that the government has no conceivable right to know."
Justice, which is supposed to protect the rights of Americans, trampled on them here.
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances," says the First Amendment.
"The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated," says the Fourth Amendment, "and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."
When and how did the administration establish there was probable cause to seize the records of more than 20 different work and personal phone numbers used by AP reporters? How can such a bold assault on the Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches not also be an assault on the First Amendment right to freedom of the press?