During the congressional hearing of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein on June 28th, Mr. Rosenstein was asked the following question:

Did you threaten to subpoena their [staffers on the House Intelligence Commitee] calls and emails?

To which Rosenstein replied:

No sir, and there's no way to subpoena phone calls.

This answer prompted some laughter in the room, and was also featured on a late night TV show as a humorous reply.

English is not my first language, neither am I familiar with the US justice system, so the joke is not apparent to me.

What makes Mr. Rosenstein's reply funny?

  • 1
    The NSA has records and recordings of every phone call happening in the states. They could subpoena the call.
    – user_42
    Jun 29, 2018 at 14:44
  • Humor is subjective; I'm not sure this question fits in its current format. If you're looking for an explanation as to why some found this funny, it's that a subpoena is an order to produce evidence (or appear in court). You could perhaps subpoena a phone company for records of calls (e.g. number XXX-XXXX called YYY-YYYY at 3:00pm), but "subpoena phone calls" itself doesn't make much sense, and hence the humor in the interrogative question (or the humor in relying on a "media source" also unable to make this distinction).
    – C. Helling
    Jun 29, 2018 at 14:48
  • 1
    @user_42 Blatantly untrue, and sounds like anti-US propaganda to fail to make such a distinction. Snowden exposed NSA programs about them collecting phone metadata, which is exactly as I described above (e.g. one number called another). The only way some govt agency can listen to a US citizen's call is if they had a warrant to intercept communications, likely a FISA warrant. The ease of which the government can obtain such warrant is a hotly contested issue.
    – C. Helling
    Jun 29, 2018 at 14:56
  • 1
    @Giter: I thought about posting it on Law.SE because I assumed it would be about the nature of a subpoena and taking it too literally. But there might also have been some legislation about it that made the statement funny. Which, I think, falls within the scope of this site. But nevertheless, thank you for the answer!
    – pat3d3r
    Jun 29, 2018 at 15:26
  • 6
    This should be migrated to ELL.SE. Questions like this are on-topic there (there's a subject-verb confusion that makes it amusing)
    – Machavity
    Jun 29, 2018 at 15:27


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