After POLITICO reported the dispute on Thursday, FBI officials had no comment on the episode, but a spokesman said via email on Saturday that law enforcement officials would abandon the claim.
“The subpoena is being withdrawn because the investigation has made it redundant,” said an FBI spokesman.
In a court file filed Saturday afternoon, Gannett added an email from a senior Justice Department official suggesting that the subpoena was aimed at identifying a suspect in a child exploitation investigation, but that person was now identified differently been.
“The FBI is withdrawing Administrative Subpoena No. 690538 because the investigated perpetrator of child sexual exploitation is currently otherwise identified,” wrote Keith Becker, assistant director of child exploitation and profanity in the judiciary.
A Gannett attorney, Charles Tobin, welcomed the decision.
“Hopefully this is a learning moment for the new government,” said Tobin, who represents POLITICO in independent affairs. “The guidelines require the FBI to look for all reasonable alternative sources, and that obviously made perfect sense here.”
The USA Today subpoena was exposed after the Department of Justice came under intense scrutiny and criticism for its efforts to seize email and phone records as part of leak investigations. The FBI’s announcement that it would abandon the subpoena over the article about the shooting came the same day the DOJ announced it would no longer attempt to expose journalists’ sources by requesting records from news agencies or their service providers.
The FBI statement stressed that the subpoena about the February shooting was not aimed at intelligence gathering.
“The administrative subpoena was issued in the context of an investigation into child exploitation and was limited to subscriber-related information in a tight timeframe. No communications records were sought from journalists, ”said the spokesman.