House lawmakers: We’re in the dark on Justice investigation of Associated Press

Lawmakers say they don’t know much more than the public on The Associated Press phone records controversy, but a key Republican said he intends to pursue the matter once the administration’s investigation ends.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) told The Hill Tuesday that many questions linger about the Justice Department’s subpoena of reporters’ phone logs. Attorney General Eric Holder and the DOJ have refused to reveal detailed information on the investigation, though Holder last week said the national security leaks to the AP were “very, very serious.”

Goodlatte said he presumed top-ranking members of the Intelligence committees might have been briefed on what the DOJ knows. He noted he has not been told.

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But Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Md.), the ranking member on the House Intelligence Committee, said Tuesday that panel members have not asked for more information from the DOJ. Asked if he thinks the DOJ needs to have a good reason to seek the phone records, he responded, “They better have a good reason.”

Ruppersberger noted he and other Intelligence Committee members on both sides of the Capitol have major concerns about the breadth of the DOJ probe.

Yet, he said out of respect for an ongoing probe, Intelligence panel members have not sought to pry.

Judiciary Committee members last week pressed Holder on the administration’s actions. Holder deflected many questions, noting he has recused himself from the case because he was interviewed by DOJ officials about a year ago.

Republicans on the panel demanded why Holder did not have any paperwork on the recusal, but legal experts say no paper trail on recusals is necessary.

Goodlatte explained that Holder recused himself because he was privy to the information that was leaked.

But if that is Holder’s rationale for recusal, Goodlatte wants to know why the man who signed off on a broad subpoena of AP reporter phone records, Deputy Attorney General James Cole, didn’t recuse himself as well.

“The question is: Did the deputy attorney general have the same information?” Goodlatte asked, adding he will follow up with the DOJ.

Cole has not addressed the media since news of the AP subpoena broke earlier this month.

Goodlatte also wants to know why the DOJ failed to notify the AP of the subpoena issued for phone records before obtaining those documents.

“The Code of Federal Regulations states that a news media organization [is] supposed to be notified of the subpoena, and they apparently were not notified of the subpoena. Therefore, that’s a big question that needs to be resolved because it looks like an effort by the government to sidestep a requirement,” Goodlatte said.

He pointed out that former Attorney General Michael Mukasey believes the subpoena of “20 reporters over a two-month period of time … was too broad.”

“There is no judge — it’s a subpoena, not a warrant — that’s why it’s a big deal,” Goodlatte said before promising that his committee is “going to pursue this for sure.”

In an interesting twist, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has ripped the Obama administration for the DOJ probe while Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has defended it.

Reid last week said, “I have trouble defending what the Justice Department did. I don’t know who did it or why it was done, but it’s inexcusable. It’s an issue I feel very strongly about.”

During an appearance on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” on Sunday, McConnell said the probe “needs to happen” because national security leaks can endanger lives.

Some lawmakers have held their tongues because they don’t know how bad the leaks were and won’t know until the FBI issues its findings. Holder announced dual probes into the leaks nearly a year ago, with one investigation headed by a Republican and another by a Democrat.

Meanwhile, a liberal and a conservative member are joining forces on legislation to protect media sources.

Senior Judiciary Committee members, ranking member John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.) and Rep. Ted Poe (R-Texas), will hold a press conference Wednesday on their Free Flow of Information Act of 2013.

It aims to protect members of the media with a “qualified privilege that prevents reporters’ source material from being revealed to government investigators except under certain narrow circumstances, such as ... to prevent an act of terrorism or other significant and specified harm to national security, imminent death or harm to national security.” 

Poe said, “Maintaining confidentiality of sources is critical to ensuring the free flow of information without government interference.”

Bob Cusack contributed to this report.