WASHINGTON — Justice Department spokeswoman Mindy Tucker recommended approving a subpoena for the home phone records of an Associated Press reporter, a government official said Friday.
The role of Tucker, who was a senior spokeswoman for George W. Bush's presidential campaign, emerged as the White House issued its first comments on the controversy, saying 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 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 Justice Department policy that the director of public affairs make a recommendation in "any request to subpoena a member of the news media," according to a fact sheet handed out recently to reporters.
The government official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Tucker recommended issuing the subpoena for the personal phone records of AP reporter John Solomon.
The subpoena was authorized by the incoming FBI director, Robert Mueller, who was then acting deputy attorney general.
Justice Department spokeswoman Susan Dryden, Tucker's deputy, declined to comment.
The department went after the records while trying to identify law enforcement officials who told AP about a wiretap interception of conversations involving Sen. Robert Torricelli (D-N.J.).
Quoting unidentified law enforcement officials, AP ran a story May 4 about a federal wiretap in 1996 that captured Torricelli discussing campaign donations. Law enforcement officials can be prosecuted for leaking information obtained under federal wiretaps.
Solomon's incoming and outgoing telephone records from May 2 to May 7 were subpoenaed.