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Justice Dept. defends probe of AP records

– The Justice Department official supervising an investigation of national security leaks to the news media said the government struck the right balance when it subpoenaed phone records of Associated Press reporters and editors without informing the news organization.

Deputy Attorney General James Cole, who took over after Attorney General Eric Holder recused himself, said in a letter Tuesday that the department doesn’t “take lightly the decision to issue subpoenas” for phone records to the media.

“The subpoenas were limited to a reasonable period of time and did not seek the content of any calls,” Cole wrote to Gary B. Pruitt, the president and chief executive officer of the news service.

Under Holder, the Justice Department has prosecuted more government officials for alleged leaks under the World War I-era Espionage Act than all his predecessors combined. The Obama administration has brought indictments against five government workers for leaking information. The Defense Department is pursuing a sixth case against Bradley Manning, the U.S. Army private accused of sending classified documents to WikiLeaks.

Lawmakers from both parties joined the AP in criticizing the collection of phone records from a period during April and May of 2012. House and Senate members called for investigations.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., told reporters Tuesday the subpoena was “inexcusable and there’s no way to justify this.”

The White House said President Obama wasn’t involved in the AP subpoena.

Holder, who has been targeted by Republicans over the probe, said at a news conference in Washington on Tuesday that he recused himself “to avoid the appearance of a potential conflict of interest and to make sure that the investigation was seen as independent.”