But Rep. Darrell E. Issa, California Republican and chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said the monitoring of AP telephone calls, including a line in the House press gallery, is disturbing.
“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,” Mr. Issa said.
The seizure of the records was disclosed Monday by AP President and CEO Gary Pruitt, who described the action in a letter to Mr. Holder as a “massive and unprecedented intrusion” into news-gathering operations. Mr. Pruitt, in the letter, said the seized records included phone numbers of the AP bureaus in New York, Washington, Hartford, Conn., and the House press gallery, along with numbers of the home phones and cellphones of reporters.
The AP story noted that the CIA thwarted the plot but that those involved planned to use a bomb with a sophisticated design using a refined detonation system. The FBI said the upgraded bomb did not contain any metal, meaning it probably could have passed through an airport metal detector.
At the time, White House spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said Mr. Obama was told of the plot in April 2012 and was assured that the device posed no threat to the public.
Mark Corallo, who was a spokesman for Attorney General John Ashcroft, described the AP seizure as “unprecedented.” Former Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez described leak investigations as “fairly unusual,” although he acknowledged that sometimes they are necessary if the information being released threatens national security.
He said that during the Bush administration, such a search would have required the approval of a deputy attorney general and likely the attorney general.
The handling of the AP investigation has led some to call for Mr. Holder’s resignation. Among them is Reince Priebus, chairman of the Republican National Committee, who described freedom of the press as “an essential right in a free society.”
The Obama administration has aggressively pursued leak investigations and brought more criminal prosecutions than any previous administration.