Attorney General Eric Holder said Tuesday he took no part in a decision to
obtain two months of Associated Press phone records as part of a leak
Holder told a press conference he recused himself because he did not have all the facts related to the investigation of a leak involving a foiled al-Qaida plot in Yemen. Holder called the leak "very serious" and a Justice Department official said Holder stepped aside because he had been interviewed as part of the investigation, The Hill reported.
"It put the American people at risk, and that is not hyperbole. It put the American people at risk," Holder said of the leak.
Journalism groups and lawmakers expressed outrage over the phone records examination.
"The Justice Department's secret acquisition of two months of the business and personal phone records of AP's reporters and other employees is shameful and outrageous," Society of Professional Journalists President Sonny Albarado said in a statement emailed to United Press International.
"Attorney General Holder and President Obama have once again shown by their actions that their words about transparency and government openness are hollow," said Albarado, city editor at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette in Little Rock.
The Newspaper Association of America said the department's "wholesale seizure of confidential telephone records" amounted to "unprecedented" actions that "shock the American conscience and violate the critical freedom of the press protected by the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights."
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said through a spokesman: "The First Amendment is first for a reason. If the Obama administration is going after reporters' phone records, they better have a damned good explanation."
House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., linked the disclosure to a mushrooming controversy over revelations the Internal Revenue Service targeted Tea Party groups for heightened scrutiny and allegations the Obama administration misled the public about the nature of the Sept. 11, 2012, terrorist attacks on a U.S. diplomatic post in Libya.
"Coming within a week of revelations that the White House lied to the American people about the Benghazi attacks and the IRS targeted conservative Americans for their political beliefs, Americans should take notice that top Obama administration officials increasingly see themselves as above the law and emboldened by the belief that they don't have to answer to anyone," Issa said.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said he was "very troubled by these allegations" and wanted to hear the government's explanation.
"The burden is always on the government when they go after private information -- especially information regarding the press or its confidential sources. I want to know more about this case, but on the face of it, I am concerned that the government may not have met that burden," Leahy said in a statement.
The outrage came after the news cooperative said Monday the Justice Department secretly obtained April and May 2012 records of outgoing calls from more than 20 phone lines of AP journalists -- including home and cellphone numbers -- sometime this year as part of a yearlong investigation into the disclosure of classified information about a failed 2012 al-Qaida plot.
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