WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 15: U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder testifies during a hearing before the House Judiciary Committee on oversight of the U.S. Department of Justice May 15, 2013 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. Holder faced questions on reports of the subpoena of two months worth of Associated Press journalists' phone records and the Internal Revenue Services' scrutiny of conservative organization's tax exemption requests. Credit: Getty Images
Attorney General Eric Holder personally signed off on the search warrant that labeled Fox News reporter James Rosen a "possible co-conspirator" and resulted in the seizure of his private emails, according to an NBC News law enforcement source.
Holder's role in the Fox News spying case had not been previously known.
More from NBC News' Michael Isikoff:
Rosen, who has not been charged in the case, was nonetheless the target of a search warrant that enabled Justice Department investigators to secretly seized his private emails after an FBI agent said he had "asked, solicited and encouraged … (a source) to disclose sensitive United States internal documents and intelligence information."
Holder previously said he recused himself from the AP subpoena because he had been questioned as a witness in the underlying investigation into a leak about a foiled bomb plot in Yemen. His role in personally approving the Rosen search warrant had not been previously reported.
A Justice Department spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The law enforcement official said Holder's approval of the Rosen search, in the spring of 2010, came after senior Justice officials concluded there was "probable cause" that Rosen's communications with his source, identified as intelligence analyst Stephen Kim, met the legal burden for such searches. "It was approved at the highest levels-- and I mean the highest," said the law enforcement official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. He said that explicitly included Holder.
Kim has since been charged with leaking classified information to Rosen on North Korea's nuclear program and how the country would respond to a United Nations resolution condemning its nuclear program.
President Barack Obama on Thursday gave a speech on his counterterrorism policy and said he was "troubled by the possibility that leak investigations may chill the investigative journalism that holds government accountable."
"Journalists should not be at legal risk for doing their jobs," he added.
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