WASHINGTON – Congressional Republicans and Democrats on Wednesday challenged Attorney General Eric Holder over the Justice Department’s handling of the investigation of national security leaks and its failure to talk to The Associated Press before issuing subpoenas for the news service’s telephone records.
In exchanges that often turned testy, Holder defended the inquiry while pointing out he had removed himself from any decision on subpoenas. The attorney general explained he had been interviewed about what he knew of national security developments that prompted the probe.
The investigation follows congressional demands into whether Obama administration officials leaked secret information to the media last year to enhance the president’s national security credentials in an election year.
It’s an ongoing matter and an ongoing matter in which I know nothing, Holder told the House Judiciary Committee.
The Justice Department secretly obtained two months of telephone records of reporters and editors for the AP, seizing the records for more than 20 separate telephone lines assigned to the AP and its journalists in April and May 2012.
Holder defended the move to collect AP phone records in an effort to hunt down the sources of information for a May 7, 2012, AP story that disclosed details of a CIA operation in Yemen to stop an airliner bombing plot around the anniversary of the killing of Osama bin Laden.
The attorney general called the story the result of a very serious leak, a very grave leak. This week in a statement, AP President and Chief Executive Officer Gary Pruitt called the gathering of phone records a massive and unprecedented intrusion into how news organizations gather the news.
Under questioning, Holder said he recused himself from the probe though he couldn’t provide the exact date nor did he do so in writing. He said he was unable to answer questions on the subpoenas and why the Justice Department failed to negotiate with the AP before the subpoenas, a standard practice.
The telephone records would not disappear if the AP had been notified, said Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif. How could it ever be the case?
The frustration extended to Republicans and Democrats.
There doesn’t appear to be any acceptance of responsibility for things that have gone wrong, Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., told Holder. He suggested administration officials travel to the Harry S. Truman Presidential Library and take a photo of the famous sign, The buck stops here.
It was Deputy Attorney General James Cole who made the decision to seek news media phone records, Holder said.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence committee, said Wednesday the leak was within the most serious leaks because it definitely endangered some lives.