The Justice Department on Tuesday defended not telling The Associated Press it subpoenaed its phone records, arguing doing so would have tipped off the investigation’s real target: the government leaker.

Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Peter Kadzik explained his department’s rationale in a letter to House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob GoodlatteRobert (Bob) William GoodlatteGOP nearing end game on immigration votes Three House Dems say they'll oppose immigration floor vote over possible wall funding House GOP sets three FBI interviews in Clinton probe MORE (R-Va.) and Rep. James Sensenbrenner Jr. (R-Wis.).

He disputed the charge that subpoenas were issued secretly, arguing the AP was told but that the notice was delayed for 90 days to avoid jeopardizing the investigation. Negotiating over the release of records could have tipped off the leaker, he wrote.

“For example, through the negotiation process, the potential target (the leaker) could become aware of the investigation, its focus, and its scope, and seek to destroy evidence, create a false narrative as a defense, or otherwise obstruct the investigation,” wrote Kadzik.

Kadzik did not detail any specifics about why negotiations were bypassed in the AP case, stating that it was an ongoing criminal investigation and could not be openly discussed.

Goodlatte and Sensenbrenner have been trading blows with the DOJ in a series of letters over the past week as the committee investigates both the AP subpoenas and a separate national security leaks investigation in which the department obtained a Fox News reporter’s email and phone records.