Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. revealed Tuesday he was not involved with a controversial decision to subpoena Associated Press phone records as part of an investigation into a leak of classified information.
Holder, addressing reporters at a press conference about a health care fraud enforcement matter, said he recused from the investigation after the FBI interviewed him during the course of the leak probe. Deputy Attorney General James Cole made the decision to subpoena toll records from 20 phone lines of reporters and editors at the Associated Press.
Holder, however, stopped short of criticizing the decision during a flurry of questions from reporters. He said he was confident the issuance of the subpoena was in accordance to Justice Department guidelines concerning the collection of evidence from reporters.
"I'm not familiar with all that went in to the formulation of the subpoena," Holder said. "But I’m confident that the people who are involved in this investigation, who I've known for a great umber of years and who I've worked with for a great number of years, followed all of the appropriate Justice Department regulations and did things according to DOJ rules."
After Holder's remarks, the Justice Department issued a letter from Cole, to the AP chief executive, Gary Pruitt, that tried to allay concerns the department overstepped its authority.
"We understand your position that these subpoenas should have been more narrowly drawn, but in fact, consistent with Department policy, the subpoenas were limited in both time and scope," Cole said.
Cole noted that the subpoenas, which cover a two-month period in 2012, did not seek the content of any call. He said the "records have been closely held and reviewed solely for the purposes of this ongoing criminal investigation. The records have not been and will not be provided for use in any other investigations."
The Associated Press flap comes amid reports that the IRS had used political criteria to target conservative groups for extra scrutiny on applications from tax-exempt organizations. At Tuesday’s press conference, Holder announced that he had ordered a criminal investigation Friday into whether the IRS had broken any laws.
Holder also revealed Tuesday that the White House and Justice Department are looking at candidates for a senior official on the detention base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, part of a broader effort to close the controversial base that houses terrorism suspects and others.
Check back at NLJ.com later today for more on the Justice Department’s secret review of the Associated Press phone records.