- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 5, 2001

A senior Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee wants Attorney General John Ashcroft to explain why the Justice Department subpoenaed the personal telephone records of a reporter covering the investigation of Sen. Robert G. Torricelli's 1996 Senate campaign.

Sen. Charles E. Grassley, Iowa Republican, asked Mr. Ashcroft in a letter yesterday to turn over "any and all documents that were created or relied on by officials at the Department of Justice" in deciding to subpoena the telephone company for the records of Associated Press reporter John Solomon.

"I know you share with me the belief that the protection of the freedom of the press is a central pillar of our democracy," Mr. Grassley said. "There is no question that efforts by the Justice Department to subpoena the records of a reporter should be done with caution and only when the needs of justice are great."

Mr. Grassley suggested in the letter that Justice Department officials had violated their own guidelines in issuing the subpoena, asking what crime had been committed to warrant the decision and demanding the department hand over examples of any past subpoenas of media phone records.

"It is my understanding from discussions with the attorney for AP, that there was no discussion or contact at all with Mr. Solomon or AP to find other means of obtaining this information or negotiations on this matter," Mr. Grassley said. "This appears to be directly contradictory" of Justice Department rules.

Justice Department guidelines require a reporter be given notice of any subpoena unless doing so would jeopardize an investigation. The Associated Press did not find out about the subpoena until three months after it had been served, giving the firm no opportunity to challenge it.

Mr. Ashcroft, former Republican senator from Missouri, has recused himself in the Torricelli investigation, which has centered on accusations that the New Jersey Democrat illegally accepted gifts and cash from a former political supporter seeking help with the North and South Korean governments. The senator has denied the accusations.

Mr. Grassley asked the attorney general to confirm when he had recused himself in the matter and to make available any documents that would show the date and reasons.

"Regardless of whether or not you were recused in this matter, there is still the question of going forward and the Department of Justice's proper policy in this area," he said. "It is important that you give a clear voice on the importance of protecting the Fourth Estate."

Because Mr. Ashcroft had recused himself, the subpoena was approved by then-acting Deputy Attorney General Robert S. Mueller III, who took over yesterday as director of the FBI. The subpoena had been sought by U.S. Attorney Mary Jo White in New York, who is conducting the Torricelli probe.

In May, Mr. Solomon quoted anonymous federal law enforcement officials as saying that Mr. Torricelli had been caught in a 1996 wiretap discussing fund raising with relatives of a suspected Chicago organized crime figure.

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