WASHINGTON – The Associated Press’ president and CEO on Sunday called the government’s secret seizure of two months of reporters’ phone records “unconstitutional” and said the news cooperative had 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 newsgathering.
“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 had not ruled out legal action against the government. He said the Justice Department’s investigation is out of control and President Barack Obama should rein it in.
“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.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said the government needs to stop leaks by whatever means necessary.
“This is an investigation that needs to happen because national security leaks, of course, can get our agents overseas killed,” he said.
Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, a Judiciary Committee member, said the government should focus on those who leak sensitive national security matters, not on journalists who report on them.
He said his committee should hold hearings on how the Justice Department obtained AP phone records.
“What confuses me is the focus on the press, who have a constitutional right here and we depend on the press to get to the bottom of so many issues that we, as individuals, cannot,” Cornyn said.
Cornyn said the Justice Department’s actions were part of a pattern for the White House to quiet critics.
“It’s a culture of cover-ups and intimidation that is giving the administration so much trouble,” Cornyn said.
He 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 federal gun-smuggling sting.
White House senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer said the president “has complete faith in Attorney General Holder.”