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House to grill Eric Holder on AP phone taps tomorrow

House to grill Eric Holder on AP phone taps tomorrow

With scrutiny building over the Justice Department’s sweeping seizure of two months of phone records by Associated Press journalists, Attorney General Eric Holder is set to face a grilling from House lawmakers on Wednesday, a committee source tells The Cable.

The House Judiciary Committee had already scheduled an oversight hearing on Capitol Hill for 1 p.m., and according to the committee source  "Attorney General Eric Holder will testify and the AP email issue will come up." If this morning’s remarks by the committee’s chairman, Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), are any indication, it should be a contentious hearing.

"Any abridgement of the First Amendment right to the freedom of the press is concerning," he said Tuesday in wake of the probe.  "The House Judiciary Committee will thoroughly investigate this issue and will also ask Attorney General Eric Holder pointed questions about it at Wednesday’s oversight hearing."

Thus far, the White House has denied involvement in the probe, and has referred reporters to the Justice Department, putting all eyes on Holder. Last night, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said "we have no knowledge of any attempt by the Justice Department to seek phone records of the AP…. Any questions about an ongoing criminal investigation should be directed to the Department of Justice." Lawmakers are likely to take Carney up on that suggestion.

In sum, the Justice Department secretly seized the records for more than 20 separate phone lines of the AP and its journalists, in a move the news agency’s CEO called "massive and unprecedented." The Cable spoke with Mark Zaid, a national security lawyer who’s worked on a number of high profile leak cases, who put the probe in similar terms. "This is one of the boldest moves ever taken by an administration in its war against leakers," said Zaid, noting that the length of time and number of reporters and editors ensnared rivaled any case in recent memory.

The probe is believed to be in response to a May 7, 2012 AP story in which a government employee allegedly leaked details of a foiled terrorist plot in Yemen involving a CIA double-agent to an AP journalist.