The White House on Monday distanced President Obama from the Department of Justice’s seizure of Associated Press telephone records.
“Other than press reports, we have no knowledge of any attempt by the Justice Department to seek phone records of the AP,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said in a statement.
“We are not involved in decisions made in connection with criminal investigations, as those matters are handled independently by the Justice Department,” he 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 — including the AP's desk in the House of Representatives press gallery.
The AP believes the records seizure was related to a leak investigation regarding a 2012 story 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.
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.
In a statement, the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Columbia said it was “always careful and deliberate” in deciding to target media organizations.
News of Justice seizing the records comes as the administration is already dealing with accusations the IRS abused its power by targeting conservative groups for tax audits.
The administration is also under attack for its handling of the Benghazi attack.