In a letter to the Associated Press president and CEO Gary Pruitt, the Justice Department’s Deputy Attorney General James Cole defended his decision to subpoena phone records from the news agency over leaks of information about a CIA operation in Yemen, saying that the DOJ was trying to protect national security and enforce criminal laws.
“Even given the significant public interest in enforcing criminal laws that protect our national security, seeking toll records associated with media organizations is undertaken only after all other reasonable alternative investigative steps have been taken,” Cole wrote.
After a “comprehensive investigation” by the Justice Department, the letter continues, the DOJ decided to subpoena the records. “The subpoenas were limited to a reasonable period of time and did not seek the content of any calls,” Cole continued. “In addition, these 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.”
“We strive in every case to strike the proper balance between the public’s interest in the free flow of information and the public’s interest in the protection of national security and effective enforcement of our criminal laws. We believe we have done so in this matter,” wrote Cole.
In a press conference on Tuesday, Attorney General Eric Holder acknowledged the subpoenas, and explained that he recused himself from the decision to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest related to the case, so ultimately it was Cole’s decision. “I don’t know all that went into the formulation of the subpoena,” Holder said. “This was a very serious leak, a very, very serious leak. I’ve been a prosecutor since 1976, and I have to say that this is among, if not the most serious, it is within the top two or three most serious leaks I’ve ever seen. It put the American people at risk. That’s not hyperbole.”