Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) made headlines this morning when he said in an interview that the Department of Justice “wiretapped” the phones in the House of Representatives cloakroom, where members and only the most trusted staffers socialize and talk amongst themselves and to the press.
In an interview on The Hugh Hewitt Show, Nunes said:
HH: The idea that this might be a Geithner-Axelrod plan, and by that, the sort of intimation, Henry II style, will no one rid me of this turbulent priest, will no one rid me of these turbulent Tea Parties, that might have just been a hint, a shift of an eyebrow, a change in the tone of voice. That’s going to take a long time to get to. I don’t trust the Department of Justice on this. Do you, Congressman Nunes?
DN: No, I absolutely do not, especially after this wiretapping incident, essentially, of the House of Representatives. I don’t think people are focusing on the right thing when they talk about going after the AP reporters. The big problem that I see is that they actually tapped right where I’m sitting right now, the Cloak Room.
HH: Wait a minute, this is news to me.
DN: The Cloak Room in the House of Representatives.
HH: I have no idea what you’re talking about.
DN: So when they went after the AP reporters, right? Went after all of their phone records, they went after the phone records, including right up here in the House Gallery, right up from where I’m sitting right now. So you have a real separation of powers issue that did this really rise to the level that you would have to get phone records that would, that would most likely include members of Congress, because as you know…
DN: …members of Congress talk to the press all the time.
HH: I did not know that, and that is a stunner.
DN: Now that is a separation of powers issue here, Hugh.
Jack Langer, Nunes’ communications director, sent out a clarification on Nunes’ statement, explaining that Nunes only meant that the DOJ seized phone records for the AP in the Capitol, to which the DOJ had already admitted:
What Rep. Nunes meant by “tapped” was that the Department of Justice seized the phone records, as has been widely reported. He did not mean to refer to phone records of the cloakroom, but of the Capitol. This refers to the phone records for the AP from the House press gallery, which the DOJ admitted looking at. He was explaining that those phone records would reveal a lot of conversations between the press and members of Congress, since reporters often speak to Members from the press gallery phones. The notion of the DOJ looking at phone records from the Capitol of conversations between Members of Congress and reporters is something that concerns Rep. Nunes, bringing up issues related to the separation of powers.
So it looks like nobody is accusing the DOJ of tapping members’ phone calls in the cloakroom, but the separation of powers issue remains. This started out as a constitutional issue regarding freedom of the press, but it may develop into several constitutional issues, with separation of powers following right behind. By seizing the AP’s phone records, the DOJ harvested records of the calls between its reporters and members of Congress.
Where is the line on separation of powers? The comparisons with Nixon are obvious. Considering the details coming out on so many scandals recently, Obama might be the new imperial president with an executive branch completely overstepping the boundaries created by the Constitution.