In a press conference on Tuesday, Attorney General Eric Holder took questions on two big controversies surrounding the Obama Administration, the IRS's targeting of conservative groups and the Department of Justice's decision to subpoena phone records from the Associated Press.
The subpoena was the result of an investigation into leaked details of a CIA operation in Yemen in 2012. In a statement earlier on Tuesday, a DOJ official said that Holder had recused himself from the decision to subpoena the records early on in the investigation to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest. The decision was ultimately made by Deputy Attorney General James Cole.
"As the Attorney General testified in June 2012, he was interviewed by the FBI in connection with the investigation into the unauthorized disclosure of classified information," a DOJ official said, TPM reports. "To avoid any potential appearance of a conflict of interest, the Attorney General recused himself from this matter."
Holder reiterated this in the press conference, saying that though he was not involved in the decision, he is "confident" that Cole "followed all of the appropriate regulations."
"I don't know all that went into the formulation of the subpoena," Holder continued. "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."
He added that the leak "required very aggressive action," but "that it is certainly not the policy of this Administration" to go after journalists.
Holder also said that he has ordered a probe of the IRS's "outrageous" and "unacceptable" alleged scrutinizing of tea party and other conservative groups. "The FBI is coordinating with the Justice Department to see if any laws were broken in connection with those matters related to the IRS," he told reporters. "We are examining the facts to see if there were criminal violations."