Knight Center
Knight Center

JOURNALISM IN THE AMERICAS Blog

Holder defends AP phone seizures, Obama pushes for federal shield law



HolderU.S. Attorney General Eric Holder testifies during a House panel on Wednesday, May 15.

United States Attorney General Eric Holder defended the Justice Department’s seizure of The Associated Press’ phone records on Tuesday, May 14, as part of an investigation into one of “the top two or three most serious leaks that I’ve ever seen,” Holder said, according to The New York Times. Meanwhile, the uproar surrounding the inquiry prompted the Obama administration to push for a federal shield law for journalists.

Holder asserted that the leak put “American lives at risk,” apparently referencing an AP article on May 7, 2012, that revealed how the U.S. foiled a plot by an Al Qaeda branch in Yemen to blow up an airplane, according to the Times and The AP.

“Rather than talk to us in advance, they seized these phone records in secret, saying that notifying us would compromise their investigation. They offer no explanation of this, however,” read a statement from The AP on Tuesday.

Holder recused himself from the leak investigation to avoid any appearance of conflict of interest, reported Fox News. According to a DOJ source, the requests for The AP’s phone records were made by the deputy attorney general and were “consistent with Department regulations and policies.”

In an attempt to contain the political fallout from the inquiry, the Obama administration asked Senator Charles Schumer, Democrat of New York, to revive a federal media shield law, reported the Times on Wednesday, May 15. The Free Flow of Information Act was tabled in 2009 in the shadow of the first WikiLeaks controversy.

“This kind of law would balance national security needs against the public’s right to the free flow of information. At minimum, our bill would have ensured a fairer, more deliberate process in this case,” said Senator Schumer in a statement, according to the Times.

A protest letter written to Holder by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of Expression, signed by numerous U.S. news media organizations, also called for a federal shield law. The letter also demanded that all of the seized telephone records be destroyed along with any copies and asked the DOJ to disclose any other pending news-media related subpoenas not yet announced. Read the full letter below.

National Public Radio reported that Holder said he did not know how many times the Justice Department has seized journalists’ records during his leadership.

"I'm not sure how many of those cases ... I have actually signed off on," Holder said. "I take them very seriously. I know that I have refused to sign a few [and] pushed a few back for modifications," according to NPR. 

Media coalition letter to Attorney General Eric Holder



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