Attorney General Eric Holder told reporters Tuesday that the leak to the Associated Press that prompted the Justice Department to secretly obtain phone records for AP reporters and editors constituted a “very, very serious leak” that “put the American people at risk.”
The AP sent a scathing letter to the DOJ on Monday, after they were informed that the DOJ had secretly obtained two months worth of phone records from April and May of 2012, a period of time during which the AP reported on a covert CIA operation in Yemen to prevent an airplane bomb plot. The Justice Department had previously said it was investigating the leak.
“This was a very serious leak. A very, very serious leak,” Holder said Tuesday at a press conference. He added that it was possibly the most serious leak he had seen, or at least top two or three.
“It put the American people at risk,” he said. “And that is not hyperbole.”
“Trying to determine who was responsible for that, I think, required aggressive action,” he said.
Holder said that he had recused himself from the investigation at its start, and that the U.S. Attorney here in Washington, D.C. had conducted the investigation under the authority of Deputy Attorney General James Cole. Holder said he was confident that the people conducting the investigation had done so in a way that was within the bounds of Justice Department regulations.
As a result, Holder said he had no knowledge of why the records were obtained without first notifying the AP, but he said that a letter sent by the Deputy Attorney General in response to the AP’s letter contained some “factual assertions” that contradicted some of the statements made in the AP’s letter.
He objected to the idea that this was evidence the administration was trying to “get” the press.
“This administration has put a real value on the rule of law and our values as Americans. I think the actions we have taken are consistent with both,” he said.