WASHINGTON The Justice Department's chief spokeswoman recommended approving a subpoena for the home telephone records of an Associated Press reporter, a government official says.
The role of department public affairs director Mindy Tucker, who was a senior spokeswoman for President Bush's election campaign, emerged as the White House issued its first comments on the controversy. It said it would support such practices as long as federal law is followed.
"The president does not think it is a proper course of action for the White House to tell the Justice Department how to go about its investigations," White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said Friday when asked about the department's obtaining the reporter's phone records.
"This is a matter of law enforcement and Justice Department practices," said Fleischer. "It is not a question for the White House to politically, for example, tell the Justice Department how to carry out their efforts so long as they're carried out within the law."
Tucker's role in the AP subpoena came about because of a department policy that spells out the process for handling proposed subpoenas for news reporters.
In a fact sheet handed out to reporters recently, the department said that in the case of "any request to subpoena a member of the news media ... The Director of Public Affairs also makes a recommendation."
The government official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Tucker recommended issuing the subpoena for the personal phone records of AP reporter John Solomon. It was authorized by the incoming FBI director, Robert Mueller, who was then acting deputy attorney general.
Susan Dryden, Tucker's deputy at the public affairs office, declined to comment.
The Justice Department went after the records while trying to identify unidentified law enforcement officials who told the AP about a wiretap intercept of Sen. Robert Torricelli, D-N.J.
The department received the records just 10 days after the May 4 AP story ran.
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