New York Times' Eric Lichtblau Returns To Justice Department Beat After Subpoena Threat Wanes

NSA leak investigation stretched from Bush years into Obama administration.
Eric Lichtblau will once again cover the Justice Department beat at The New York Times.
Eric Lichtblau will once again cover the Justice Department beat at The New York Times.

NEW YORK -- New York Times reporter Eric Licthblau is returning to cover the Justice Department, a beat he left in 2009 amid threat of subpoena over a Pulitzer Prize-winning story on the National Security Agency's warrantless wiretapping program. 

Lichtblau, who was most recently covering 2016 campaign finance issues, drew the ire of the Bush administration early on for his reporting, leading to his Justice Department press credentials being temporarily revoked in 2003. Tensions only increased after The Times published Lichtblau and James Risen's 2005 report on NSA surveillance, a story the paper initially held for 13 months under pressure from the White House. 

Lichtblau told The Huffington Post that the Bush administration aggressively investigated the NSA leak and there were vague threats of subpoena in 2006 and 2007. But it wasn't until Dec. 16, 2008 -- after President Barack Obama won the presidential election but before the Bush administration left off -- that Lichtblau received a letter threatening a subpoena if he didn't provide the source information by Inauguration Day a month later. He did not comply. Still, the threat didn't go away when Obama took office, and in early 2009, Lichtblau and Times editors decided it was best he leave the beat.

"We made the decision that it was a weird situation to be covering this department that was actively investigating the NSA leaks and threatening to subpoena us," he recalled. 

Lichtblau, who never was subpoenaed in the end, said he's looking forward to covering the Justice Department and issues such as civil rights, guns and criminal justice reform. He also expects to work on investigative projects with reporters Michael Schmidt and Matt Apuzzo. 

In a Thursday memo obtained by HuffPost, The Times announced that Apuzzo, who has been covering the Justice Department, will become "an investigative and enterprise reporter on national security, criminal justice and other issues." Apuzzo, also a Pulitzer Prize winner, joined The Times in 2013 from The Associated Press, where his reporting prompted three separate leak investigations.

And The Times also announced Thursday that Matt Rosenberg, who was notably expelled from Afghanistan last year, will cover the Pentagon full time with Helene Cooper. 

The Times memo from Washington bureau chief Elisabeth Bumiller and Washington editor Bill Hamilton is below: 

We're pleased to announce some changes in beats in the Washington Bureau.

Matt Apuzzo, our Justice Department reporter, will do more of what he does best and become an investigative and enterprise reporter on national security, criminal justice and other issues. Matt, who came to The Times in 2014 from the investigative team at the Associated Press, won a Pulitzer in investigative reporting at the AP for exposing the NYPD's surveillance of Muslims. He has also won a Polk, a Goldsmith and a White House Correspondents Association Award, among others.

Eric Lichtblau, who has covered campaign finance for the politics team, will become our Justice Department reporter. Eric has been in the Washington bureau since 2002, covering the Justice Department, national security, lobbying and other issues. He and Jim Risen won the Pulitzer in 2006 for their stories on President Bush’s secret NSA wiretapping program.

Matt Rosenberg, who has split his time between the State Department and the Defense Department, will join the fantastic Helene Cooper full time at the Pentagon. Matt joined The Times from The Wall Street Journal in 2011, and he covered Afghanistan until he was expelled from the country last year. Matt exposed how the CIA made monthly cash drops for more than a decade at the office of President Hamid Karzai and covered Afghanistan's first international boxing match, which he christened the Squabble in Kabul.


The changes are effective immediately.


Elisabeth and Bill