US Attorney General Eric Holder has claimed he was unaware of the subpoenas for AP’s phone records, but defended them as a necessary measure. Holder recused himself from the case that has been branded as an “unprecedented intrusion” into press freedom.
US lawmakers questioned the attorney general at a House
Judiciary Committee about the two months of AP phone records
obtained by the Justice Department without permission. In a session
that saw the attorney on the back foot amid calls for his resign,
he maintained his ignorance in the “ongoing matter.”
Flatly denying any prior knowledge to the subpoenas and who had issued them, he stated that he was 99 per cent sure that deputy attorney general James Cole had issued them.
“The matter is being supervised by the deputy attorney general. I am not familiar with the reasons why the subpoena was constructed in the way that it was because I’m simply not a part of the case,” Holder told the committee, adding he was confident that the people who are involved in the investigation adhered to Justice Department regulations.
Investigators wish to discern why it was necessary to gather so much information from AP phone records. The Justice Departments claims that the records were seized as part of an investigation into leaked data on a CIA operation in Yemen to stop an airliner bombing plot on the anniversary of the death of Osama Bin Laden.
Holder stressed that the leak was very serious and had put the safety of the American people at risk and as such the Justice Department’s action was justified.
The Justice Department admitted its surveillance of AP’s phone
lines in a letter to the organization’s heads last Friday. AP’s
Chief Gary Pruitt reacted with ire, condemning the intrusion as a
gross violation of press freedom that is inexcusable. AP estimates
that over 100 of its journalists were affected by the phone
surveillance and has implicated the involvement of the attorney
general, alleging that subpoenas require his signature to be
There was a degree of frustration at Holder’s answers during the hearing due to his inability to answer questions on the subpoenas and why the Justice Department failed to negotiate with AP prior to the subpoenas, which is usually standard practice in such situations.
“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 that Justice Department office should stop by Harry S Truman Presidential Library and take a photo of the famous sign, “The buck stops here.”
The White House has also claimed ignorance, stating that it had no knowledge of “any attempt by the Justice Department to seek phone records of the AP.”