The president and CEO of The Associated Press, Gary Pruitt, said Sunday the Justice Department breached the Constitution by seizing its phone records of two months after the organization ran a story about a foiled terror plot in Yemen last year.
The department "issued a secret subpoena for the phone toll records for 21 AP phone lines and these were phones lines for reporters, direct lines, cell phones, home phones but also the office numbers," Pruitt said on CBS News' "Face the Nation." "So over 100, approximately a hundred journalists used these telephone lines as part of newsgathering and over the course of the two months of the records that they swept up, thousands upon thousands of newsgathering calls were made."
The department did not follow its own rules in its efforts to find out who may have leaked information to the AP, Pruitt added. "They are required to narrow this request as narrowly as possible so as to not tread upon the First Amendment. And yet they had a broad, sweeping collection, and they did it secretly. Their rules require them to come to us first but in this case they didn't, claiming an exception, saying that if they had it would have posed a substantial threat to their investigation. But they have not explained why it would and we can't understand why it would."
Ever since the AP was notified of the subpoenaed phone records last week, the organization's sources are not showing willingness to talk to its journalists, he said. "They fear that they will be monitored by the government."
"...The government has no business having control over all, monitoring all of this newsgathering information from the Associated Press," Pruitt asserted. "And if they restrict that apparatus, you're right – the people of the United States will only know what the government wants them to know and that's not what the framers of the Constitution had in mind when they wrote the First Amendment."
Pruitt later said his organization has not ruled out going to court. "It's too early to know if we'll take legal action but I can tell you we are positively displeased and we do feel that our constitutional rights have been violated," he said.
The AP delayed running the story after officials expressed concerns it might jeopardize national security.
At a press conference in March, Attorney General Eric Holder claimed that what the AP executives are calling a "massive and unprecedented intrusion," was, in the opinion of the department, "aggressive action to investigate leaks that put the American people at risk. … We're not trying to get the press, and it's not hyperbole … Americans' lives were at risk."
Holder added that he recused himself from the investigation – he's unsure of the exact date – and handed it off to Deputy Attorney General James Cole as soon as the investigation into the leaks to the AP were underway, because he didn't want to project any appearance of impropriety.
While White House Press Secretary Jay Carney has claimed that President Obama is a supporter of shield laws, Richard Benedetto, a former White House correspondent for USA Today and adjunct professor at American University in Washington, D.C., earlier told The Christian Post that, in his opinion, it would be unlikely that Obama wasn't aware of the DOJ's investigation into the AP, and added that "this story has a potential of being a real problem for the administration."