Attorney General Eric Holder Recuses Himself From Investigation, The Associated Press Responds To Justice Department Seizure Of Journalists’ Phone Records
The Associated Press is officially and publicly responding to notification by the United States Department of Justice that the DOJ had secretly obtained the phone records of more than twenty of its journalists.
The phone records included office, personal, and cellular lines associated with the reporters.
The Associated Press is requesting "an immediate explanation of the extraordinary action and for the records to be returned to AP and all copies destroyed."
Calling the seizure of records "intrusive," Associated Press President and CEO Gary Pruitt wrote a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder which included the following statement:
"There can be no possible justification for such an overbroad collection of the telephone
communications of The Associated Press and its reporters. These records potentially reveal communications with confidential sources across all of the newsgathering activities undertaken by the AP during a two-month period, provide a road map to AP’s
newsgathering operations, and disclose information about AP’s activities and operations that the government has no conceivable right to know.
That the Department undertook this unprecedented step without providing any notice to
the AP, and without taking any steps to narrow the scope of its subpoenas to matters
actually relevant to an ongoing investigation, is particularly troubling.
The sheer volume of records obtained, most of which can have no plausible connection to any ongoing investigation, indicates, at a minimum, that this effort did not comply with 28 C.F.R. §50.10 and should therefore never have been undertaken in the first place. The regulations require that, in all cases and without exception, a subpoena for a reporter’s telephone toll records must be 'as narrowly drawn as possible.' This plainly did not happen.
We regard this action by the Department of Justice as a serious interference with AP’s
constitutional rights to gather and report the news."
Although the Justice Department has not yet revealed the reason behind the seizure, it is widely believed - and put forth by the Associated Press - that the seizure stems from a May 2012 AP story about a foiled al-Qaeda plot. In the story details about the CIA's operations in Yemen were disclosed. Nine months later, in February 2013, CIA Director John Brennan was asked if he was the source for the story. He denied being the source and said that the release of that information to the media was dangerous.
It is not know whether the White House knew about the incident. When asked about it White House Spokesman Jay Carney said that the Department of Justice investigation was "independent," wording similar to that which was used in reference to a recent revelation about IRS activities targeting conservative groups. The White House is referring questions about the records directly to the Justice Department.
In the meantime Justice Department head, Attorney General Eric Holder is recusing himself from the investigation. Again, it is not known if Holder had knowledge about it.
"The president is a strong defender of the First Amendment," White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said during a press conference. "He also of course recognizes the need for the Justice Department to investigate alleged criminal activity without undue influence."
When asked about the President's potential involvement, Carney said that they "cannot comment specifically on an ongoing criminal investigation."
Republicans are suggesting that Attorney General Holder should do more than recuse himself. Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus says he should resign. The RNC released a statement which included the following:
"Freedom of the press is an essential right in a free society. The First Amendment doesn’t request the federal government to respect it; it demands it. Attorney General Eric Holder, in permitting the Justice Department to issue secret subpoenas to spy on Associated Press reporters, has trampled on the First Amendment and failed in his sworn duty to uphold the Constitution. Because Attorney General Holder has so egregiously violated the public trust, the president should ask for his immediate resignation."