Conflicting information is emerging over the process the Justice Department used to approve the subpoenas for Associated Press telephone records in connection with a national security leak investigation.
As I noted in a story Wednesday, Justice's Director of Public Affairs is supposed to be consulted on all subpoenas to the media or for media-related phone records. In the past, that consultation has prompted the narrowing of subpoenas in some cases and their rejection in other cases, though the ultimate decision rests with more senior Justice Department officials.
The Daily Beast's Daniel Klaidman reported Thursday that the head of DOJ Public Affairs at the time the request for the AP's records came through, Tracy Schmaler, recused herself from the matter because she'd been interviewed by investigators. (FBI agents also interviewed Attorney General Eric Holder, which he said this week was part of his decision to recuse himself.)
"In her absence, the job fell to a less experienced deputy," Klaidman reports.
However, a Justice Department official told POLITICO Thursday that none of the current public affairs staff was aware of or asked to offer views on the AP-related subpoenas.
"No one here knew about this until Monday
" when an AP reporter contacted the office for comment as the wire service prepared to go public with word of the subpoenas, said the official who asked not to be named. "On Monday, we were told it did come down here, but no action was taken and no recommendation was given."
The current acting director of DOJ's public affairs office is Nanda Chitre, a deputy White House press secretary under President Bill Clinton and a State Department public affairs staffer earlier in the Obama Administration. Chitre was one of the DOJ press office's deputies at the time the AP subpoena issue arose. However, she likely would have had to recuse as well since FBI investigators probing the leak also interviewed her.
The other deputy at the time was Gina Talamona, a veteran of the Justice Department's press shop.
Current Justice Department officials declined to discuss the matter on the record. Schmaler also declined to comment.
Matt Miller, who stepped down as DOJ spokesman in 2011, said this week that he likely would have recommended reining in the subpoenas at least to some degree.
"I think the subpoena is probably defensible,” he told the Daily Beast. “But had I reviewed [the subpoenas] I would have made recommendations about narrowing it somewhat....As someone who deals with reporters, it makes no sense looking for records from the House Gallery."