House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) said Thursday that it appeared the standard procedures for subpoenaing records from a media organization were not followed in the Justice Department's seizure of phone records from The Associated Press.
"There is a process when you are subpoenaing documents from a media organization that apparently were not followed in this case and we need to find out why," Goodlatte told MSNBC's "Morning Joe."
"The issue there of course is not that the administration shouldn't be looking for leaks related to their efforts to go after terrorists, the issue is whether this was handled properly in terms of both the overbreadth of it and why and how it was turned out to the Deputy Attorney General to pursue it," Goodlatte said.
The Justice Department said in a letter to the AP on Friday that it had gathered records on at least 20 office, cellphone and home phone numbers — 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.”
In that letter, Pruitt says it appeared the records request violates statutes requiring "in all cases and without exception, a subpoena for a reporter’s telephone toll records must be 'as narrowly drawn as possible.’'’
"This plainly did not happen," Pruitt said.
In a response from the Justice Department, Deputy Attorney General James Cole defended the scope of the subpoena.
“We understand your position that these subpoenas should have been more narrowly drawn, but in fact, consistent with Department policy, the subpoenas were limited in both time and scope,” he wrote.
Cole added that “there was a basis to believe the numbers were associated with AP personnel involved in the reporting of classified information. The subpoenas were limited to a reasonable period of time and did not seek the content of any calls.”
Holder testified before the House Judiciary panel on Wednesday, where he faced tough questioning over the DOJ’s decision. The attorney general said he had recused himself from the investigation, but vowed to pursue an after-action probe after the inquiry was completed.
On Wednesday, President Obama asked Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) to reintroduce a media shield law that would provide reporters with greater protection from phone record subpoenas.