The office of a top Bush-appointed federal prosecutor who played a role in the U.S. attorney firings scandal received improper recordings of telephone calls between defense lawyers and their clients, and appears not to have turned them over to authorities, as required by law.
On Wednesday evening, Lisa Freeland, a Pittsburgh-based federal public defender, sent a lengthy email to fellow defense lawyers, reported by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, exposing the episode. “I am incensed,” Freeland wrote.
The calls were made by inmates at the Allegheny County Jail, whose policy is to record all outgoing calls except those made to inmates’ lawyers, which are privileged. Prosecutors often request recordings of inmates’ calls.
But jail officials say that thanks to a snafu, some calls to lawyers were inadvertently recorded, and subsequently sent to the U.S. attorney’s office. And Freeland charged in her email that prosecutors in the office did not report to supervisors the fact that they had received the recordings, or ask the jail to stop.
[Y]ou would think a well-trained AUSA who receives attorney-client calls from the jail (knowing they are not to be recorded and/or divulged) would, the very first time it happened, report it to a supervisor; contact the jail and say, ‘Stop sending me those calls’; notify defense counsel; and turn over the recording. None of those things happened here.
Buchanan isn’t denying that. Her office put out a statement saying only that her office hadn’t looked at the improper recordings:
Any communications that have been inadvertently received by this office have not been reviewed,” she said. “The incidences in which these communications may have been inadvertently provided to this office are extremely rare. We haven’t seen the public defender’s written allegations. Once we see those, we’ll investigate to determine what material was received and whether it was handled appropriately.
Freeland added in her email that she learned about the calls when a fellow pubic defender was inadvertently sent an email chain that involved a prosecutor telling a jail staffer that he had received audio recordings from the jail, but had not listened to them because they were intended for the public defender’s office.
Buchanan, who was appointed to her post by President Bush in 2001, is no stranger to controversy. Kyle Sampson, top aide to Alberto Gonzales, told Congressional investigators that Buchanan — who at the time was also leading the Executive Office of U.S. Attorneys — was one of the officials consulted when he was drawing up a list of US attorneys to fire. She has also been accused of pushing politically motivated prosecutions against local Democrats. She is said to be currently mulling a run for Congress as a Republican.
One former U.S. attorney told the Post-Gazette that the attorney-client privilege is “sacrosanct,” and confirmed that prosecutors should have turned over the recordings immediately.
And an ACLU official, working with the public defender’s office on the issue, threatened to sue Buchanan’s office.
We’re working on obtaining Freeland’s email in its entirety, and will post it if and when we do.