U.S. Sen. Mark Udall said today he is concerned that the Department of Justice subpoenaed and seized phone records on an unusually broad scale from the Associated Press and that it could have a "chilling effect" on the Fourth Estate.
Udall, D-Colo., urged the Justice Department to quickly explain its actions.
"The Justice Department's criminal investigation pertains to a leak of classified information, an issue I take very seriously as a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee. I understand that the unauthorized disclosure of classified intelligence can risk lives, endanger our national security, and harm the effectiveness of our intelligence efforts," Udall said in a statement.
"But our country has a centuries-long tradition of a free and independent press — a tradition enshrined in the U.S. Constitution," the congressman from Boulder continued. "The Justice Department must always keep Americans' First Amendment rights at the forefront as it considers subpoenas of private records, especially those of news organizations."
It came to light this week that federal prosecutors seized records from 20 telephone lines used by reporters and editors at the Associated Press. The action was reportedly taken as the Obama administration, which has vowed to be touch on leaks to the media, seeks to discern which government official tipped off the AP about an Al Qaeda terrorist probe into a plot to detonate a bomb aboard a U.S.-bound airplane to avenge Osama bin Laden death. U.S. forces killed the Al Qaeda leader in Pakistan on May 11, 2011.
U.S. Attorney Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. on Tuesday recused himself from the investigation, which is now in the hands of Deputy Atty. Gen. James Cole.
The revelation of the Justice Department's records' seizure has been met with outrage from media outlets and from many in the public who have expressed surprise the U.S. government would stoop to such tactics.
"I am concerned about the Justice Department's action and the chilling effect it could have on our Fourth Estate," said Udall, who serves on the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. "The Justice Department must explain its expansive and sweeping seizure of information and how its actions are consistent with the department's own rules and the U.S. Constitution."