WASHINGTON— U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder is defending a leak investigation that included secretly obtaining phone records from the Associated Press.
The Associated Press is protesting what it calls a “massive and unprecedented intrusion” into its newsgathering operation by the Justice Department in connection with a leak investigation dating back to last year.
But at a Washington news conference Tuesday, Attorney General Eric Holder defended the investigation.
“I have been a prosecutor since 1976 and I have to say that this is among the, if not the most serious it is within the top two or three most serious leaks that I have ever seen,” Holder said.
Holder did not disclose details about the investigation. But U.S. officials have said previously they are looking for the sources of a May, 2012, Associated Press story that disclosed details of a CIA operation in Yemen that stopped an Al Qaida plot to bomb an airliner bound for the U.S.
Holder told reporters that he recused himself from the investigation and that it was now in the hands of his deputies.
The attorney general also said he had no doubt that the leak jeopardized national security.
“It put the American people at risk and that is not hyperbole (exaggeration). It put the American people at risk and trying to determine who was responsible for that I think required very aggressive action,” Holder said.
The Associated Press says the government secretly obtained two months’ worth of phone records last year for 20 separate phone lines. The AP says more than 100 journalists work in the offices covered by the phone records.
“This is not a very narrow cast inquiry. It seems to be very broad and we don’t really know what’s it’s all about since they haven’t told us. It’s one of the reasons that our CEO, Gary Pruitt, wrote such a strongly worded letter to the attorney general objecting to the broad nature and the unprecedented breadth of this inquiry,” said
Kathleen Carroll, AP’s senior vice president and executive editor.
Federal prosecutors have sought phone records from journalists before but the scope and sweep of the effort involving the AP is unusual.
The revelations have brought criticism and concern from some members of Congress and from the American Society of News Editors, which called it a disturbing affront to a free press.