WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder personally approved a decision to subpoena Fox News telephone records as the Justice Department investigated an unauthorized leak regarding North Korea, according to two sources familiar with the matter.
The U.S. Justice Department did not mention the subpoena when it issued a statement on Friday describing how Holder had vetted a decision to seek a search warrant for the contents of an email account used by Fox News reporter James Rosen.
The revelation that Holder approved subpoenas that sought Fox News phone records shows that his involvement was broader than the Justice Department had earlier acknowledged publicly, as details continue to emerge in the controversy.
A Justice Department spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a request for comment. However, current and former law enforcement officials said that under Justice Department procedures, the attorney general’s approval is required before a subpoena is issued for journalists’ records.
A second official confirmed that in the Fox News leak investigation, the government had issued subpoenas for “toll records for five phone numbers associated with the media.”
Rosen reported in June 2009 that U.S. intelligence officials believed North Korea would conduct more nuclear tests in response to U.N. sanctions.
Stephen Kim, a former State Department analyst who was Rosen’s alleged source, is scheduled to go on trial as soon as next year on charges that he violated an anti-espionage law. Rosen has not been charged.
The administration has also been under fire for a separate subpoena of Associated Press phone records as part of a different investigation of an alleged unauthorized leak.
Both incidents have sparked an outcry from journalists, but the Fox News case has proved more concerning to some because investigators described Rosen as a suspected “co-conspirator” in the leak of secret government information.
Fox News Chairman Roger Ailes said in a statement on Thursday that the Obama administration was attempting to intimidate Fox News and its employees.
Another law enforcement official said that subpoenas issued for Fox News covered telephone records for two days during 2009. The official said that a certified letter and fax notifying the general counsel of News Corp, parent of Fox News, about the subpoenas was sent on August 27, 2010, the day Kim was indicted.
Authorities emailed Rosen at his work address with a similar notification, the official said. News Corp has said that it has found no record of such notifications, though it is not disputing government officials’ accounts.
Mark Corallo, a Justice Department spokesman between 2002 and 2005, said that during his tenure, any request from any part of the Justice Department for the issuing of subpoenas against a news organization had to be submitted to his office for approval.
Corallo said that of “dozens” of requests from prosecutors for subpoenas directed against news organizations, he approved only one during his tenure.
President Barack Obama said last week that Holder would begin a review of Justice Department procedures related to media records. Holder, speaking to reporters on Tuesday, said he hopes to meet this week with media organizations about the review.
“We’re going to have a real frank, good conversation about this,” Holder said. “And I think we’re going to make some changes. I‘m not satisfied with where we are.”
Reporting By Mark Hosenball; Additional reporting by David Ingram; Editing by Karey Van Hall and Eric Beech