AP, DOJ clash over seriousness of leak that prompted phone records seizure

Jonathan Ernst / Reuters

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder calls on a reporter during a news conference at the Justice Department on Tuesday.

By Michael Isikoff
National Investigative Correspondent, NBC News

Justice Department and Associated Press officials clashed Tuesday over leaked classified information that led the government to seize AP phone records, with Attorney General Eric Holder saying it “put the American people at risk” and the news organization’s chief executive insisting it delayed publishing its story until it was assured “national security concerns had passed.”

The day of back-and-forth public sallies came as new details emerged about negotiations between the AP and U.S. officials over the unauthorized release of classified information on a foiled bomb plot in Yemen, information that apparently triggered the investigation.

“This was a very, very serious leak,” Holder said at a news conference. “I’ve been a prosecutor since 1976 – and I have to say that this is among, if not the most serious, in the top two or three most serious leaks that I’ve ever seen. It put the American people at risk – and that is not hyperbole.”

Holder defended the secret subpoena for about two months of AP phone records on 20 separate telephone lines without prior notice as a necessary step, saying that trying to find the source of the leak “required very aggressive action.”

Holder’s comments and a letter from Deputy Attorney General James Cole defending the seizure of the AP records – without notifying the news organization until last week —  drew a stern response from AP President and CEO Gary Pruitt. He  blasted the action as “overbroad under the law,” saying  that “more than 100 journalists work in the locations served by those telephones.”

“Rather than talk to us in advance, they seized these phone records in secret, saying that notifying us would compromise their investigation,” Pruitt said in a statement late Tuesday. “They offer no explanation of this, however.


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DOJ’s secret subpoena of AP phone records broader than initially revealed

Information has emerged  in the Justice Department seizure of Associated Press phone records as well as the news that reporter for Fox News is now a target of a leak investigation concerning North Korea.  NBC’s Michael Isikoff reports.

The Justice Department’s secret subpoena for AP phone records included the seizure of records for five reporters’ cellphones and three home phones as well as two fax lines, a lawyer for the news organization tells NBC News.

David Schulz, the chief lawyer for the AP, said the subpoenas also covered the records for 21 phone lines in five AP office lines — including one for a dead phone line at  office in Washington that had been shut down six years ago. The phone lines at four other offices – where  100 reporters worked — were also covered by the subpoenas, Schulz said.

Although AP had given general information about the subpoenas last week, it provided new details Monday about the number of cell and home phone records as it considers possible legal action against the Justice Department.


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