Senate Intelligence Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., is not yet alarmed by recent news that the Department of Justice acquired the phone records of Associated Press reporters.
As we reported in this space yesterday, Feinstein was one of many lawmakers in both parties who last summer called on the Obama administration to more aggressively pursue leakers who divulged classified national security information to The New York Times. Republicans especially who were most vocal in pushing for tougher investigations last summer have done a 180 and are now siding with the aggrieved journalists in their complaint against the government.
“I’m not one of them that has said the Department of Justice has exceeded their boundaries. I think it’s important that we find out exactly what was done. As I understand it, it was a very short period of time and the only thing collected was what we call metadata — which is not content of a call, it’s numbers,” Feinstein told CQ Roll Call in a brief interview Wednesday. “I would assume because prosecutions are so difficult to make in this era that being able to trace where the leak came from to the person that receives the leak is important.”
But Feinstein also expressed reservations about those members who seem to have suddenly changed their position on the issue less than a year later out of what appears on the surface to be political expediency.
“I think to some extent what we’re into is an unusual effort to really find fault, and I very much regret it. But it’s going to impact the credibility of the people who are doing this, long term, I think,” Feinstein said.
For example, Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, engaged in a fractious exchange last June with Deputy Attorney General James Cole over the national security leaks at the time, questioning whether the leaks themselves constituted a federal crime and demanding to know what the DOJ was doing about it. On Wednesday, he sent a letter to Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., prodding him on his involvement in the AP affair.
“The regulations — important guarantees of press freedom — should result in modest use of such subpoenas, which makes your statement yesterday that you were not sure how many you had authorized troubling,” Cornyn wrote. “The leaks that led to [the] investigation reportedly emanated from the highest levels of the Administration. The response to that ought to have been aggressive inquiry into those in the Administration with access to the information allegedly leaked. What we are seeing now is an aggressive investigation into the journalists who reported the leaked information.”
It’s unclear whether some members complaining now are aware of the history of these probes. After all, in the case of Valerie Plame, one journalist was jailed for refusing to divulge who had revealed that Plame worked for the CIA.