WASHINGTON (AP) — The Justice Department told Congress on Tuesday that the department acted properly and followed all legal procedures correctly in subpoenaing phone records of The Associated Press during a leak investigation.
At the same time, Attorney General Eric Holder held a fourth round of meetings with news organizations to review how the department treats the news media when it investigates national security leaks.
The discussions were ordered last week by President Barack Obama, who gave Holder until July 12 to recommend any changes to the department's procedures.
The Justice Department secretly subpoenaed records of calls made through 21 AP phone lines in several bureaus as part of a criminal probe seeking to identify the sources of information for a May 2012 AP story that disclosed details about a foiled bomb plot in Yemen.
In a letter to House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., the department said it conducted more than 550 interviews and reviewed tens of thousands of pages of documents before resorting to subpoenaing AP phone records.
Holder recused himself from the investigation in light of his frequent contact with the news media, leaving it to his deputy, James Cole, to approve the decision to seek the phone records, according to the letter from Peter Kadzik, principal deputy assistant attorney general for legislative affairs.
The department sought to justify its decision to delay notifying the AP until last month by saying that a more timely notification would have threatened the criminal investigation.
If the department had chosen to negotiate over the subpoena with the AP, the target of the investigation who leaked information could have become aware of the investigation, its focus and scope and could have sought to destroy evidence or otherwise obstruct the investigation, the letter stated.
The AP contends that the subpoena was overly broad because it swept up information about calls made by about 100 journalists, most of whom had nothing to do with the story being investigated.
The letter was a response to questions posed in a May 22 letter from Goodlatte and other Republicans on the Judiciary Committee.
Kadzik's letter did not answer many of Goodlatte's questions, including when Holder recused himself, when Cole learned that Holder had done so, whether Holder had personally informed Cole of Holder's intent to recuse himself, whether Holder's recusal was in writing or whether the recusal was recorded in any manner.