WASHINGTON (TheBlaze/AP) — The president and chief executive officer of The Associated Press on Sunday called the government’s secret seizure of two months of reporters’ phone records “unconstitutional” and said the news cooperative has not ruled out legal action against the Justice Department.
Gary Pruitt, in his first television interviews since it was revealed the Justice Department subpoenaed phone records of AP reporters and editors, said the move already has had a chilling effect on journalism. Pruitt said the seizure has made sources less willing to talk to AP journalists and, in the long term, could limit Americans’ information from all news outlets.
Pruitt told CBS’ “Face the Nation” that the government has no business monitoring the AP’s newsgathering activities.
“And if they restrict that apparatus … the people of the United States will only know what the government wants them to know and that’s not what the framers of the Constitution had in mind when they wrote the First Amendment,” he said.
In a separate interview with the AP, Pruitt said the news cooperative had not decided its next move but has not ruled out legal action against the government. He said the Justice Department’s investigation is out of control and that President Barack Obama should rein it in, apparently believing that the White House had no knowledge of the decision to seize the records.
“It’s too early to know if we’ll take legal action but I can tell you we are positively displeased and we do feel that our constitutional rights have been violated,” Pruitt said.
“They’ve been secretive, they’ve been overbroad and abusive – so much so that taken together, they are unconstitutional because they violate our First Amendment rights,” he added.
Republican Sen. John Cornyn, a member of the Judiciary Committee, said on “Face the Nation” that the scandal is only part of a “culture of cover-ups and intimidation that is giving the administration so much trouble.”
The Texas senator also renewed his call for Attorney General Eric Holder to resign, citing the contempt citation the House of Representatives voted against him last year for refusing to turn over documents in a failed government gun smuggling sting known as Operation Fast and Furious.
Watch the entire segment on the AP phone records scandal below:
But White House senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that President Obama “has complete faith in Attorney General Holder.” He also said the White House was not involved in the decision to seek AP phone records.
Although the Justice Department has not explained why it sought phone records from the AP, Pruitt pointed to a May 7, 2012, story that disclosed details of a successful CIA operation in Yemen to stop an airliner bomb plot around the one-year anniversary of the May 2, 2011, killing of Osama bin Laden.
The AP delayed publication of that story at the request of government officials who said it would jeopardize national security.
“We respected that, we acted responsibly, we held the story,” Pruitt said.
Pruitt said that only after officials from two government entities said the threat had passed did the AP publish the story. He said the administration still asked that the story be held until an official announcement the next day, a request the AP rejected.
The news service viewed the story as important because White House and Department of Homeland Security officials were saying publicly there was no credible evidence of a terrorist threat to the U.S. around the one-year anniversary of bin Laden’s death.
“So that was misleading to the American public. We felt the American public needed to know this story,” Pruitt said.
The AP has seen an effect on its newsgathering since the disclosure of the Justice Department’s subpoena, he said.
“Officials that would normally talk to us and people we talk to in the normal course of newsgathering are already saying to us that they’re a little reluctant to talk to us,” Pruitt said. “They fear that they will be monitored by the government.”
The Justice Department secretly obtained two months of personal and work telephone records for several reporters and editors, as well as general AP office numbers in New York, Washington and Hartford, Conn., and for the main number for the AP in the House of Representatives press gallery.
“It was sweeping and broad and beyond what they needed to do,” Pruitt said.
He objected to the “Justice Department acting on its own being the judge, jury and executioner in secret,” saying the AP would not back down.
“We’re not going to be intimidated by the abusive tactics of the Justice Department,” he said.