President Obama hasn’t consulted with the Justice Department on the seizure of phone records from The Associated Press partly because of the criticism he would receive from Fox News, White House press secretary Jay Carney said Tuesday.
Asked what was preventing Obama from calling Attorney General Eric HolderEric H. HolderOvernight Tech: Senate moving to kill FCC's internet privacy rules | Bill Gates pushes for foreign aid | Verizon, AT&T pull Google ads | Q&A with IBM's VP for cyber threat intel Uber leadership sticking by CEO Top Dems prep for future while out of the spotlight MORE to be updated on the investigation, Carney said a "great deal."
"Imagine the story on Fox if that were to happen. That's why," Carney said.
The spokesman said it would be "wholly inappropriate" for the president to get involved in what appears to be a criminal investigation — especially one that could involve administration officials accused of leaks.
"I cannot, and he cannot comment specifically on an ongoing criminal investigation or actions that investigators at the Department of Justice have taken," Carney said.
More generally, "a careful balance … must be obtained" between press rights and national security concerns, said Carney, who is a former reporter.
The AP believes the records seizure was related to investigation of leaked information about the CIA foiling a bomb plot in Yemen. The Obama administration has aggressively investigated the disclosure of classified anti-terror information in recent years, subpoenaing journalists from The New York Times and The Washington Post.
"I can't comment on the specifics on that, but I can tell you the president feels strongly the press needs to be unfettered in its pursuit of investigative journalism," Carney said.
Carney also defended Obama's record on the freedom of the press, pointing to press shield legislation he sponsored during his time in the Senate.
"He firmly believes in the need to defend the First Amendment," Carney said.
The Justice Department said in a letter to the AP on Friday that it had gathered records on at least 20 office, cell phone, and home phone numbers of their staff — including the AP's desk in the House of Representatives press gallery.
In a letter of protest sent to Attorney General Eric Holder on Monday, AP President Gary Pruitt said there could be “no possible justification for such an overbroad collection of the telephone communications.”
“These records potentially reveal communications with confidential sources across all of the newsgathering activities undertaken by the AP during a two-month period, provide a road map to AP's newsgathering operations and disclose information about AP's activities and operations that the government has no conceivable right to know,” Pruitt said.