President Barack Obama, House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and other top republican lawmakers were behind the U.S. Department of Justice’s gathering of Associated Press reporters’ telephone records reported Monday, according to someone close to the matter.
Obama and Boehner met Monday with other top republicans, including Rep. Eric Cantor, R-Va., in what was called an “emergency briefing,” less than an hour after AP broke confirmed a DOJ probe, which gathered records for 20 phone lines, including cell phones, assigned to AP reporters over two months in early 2012.
Topics of the meeting weren’t disclosed and, although mainstream media reports have painted Obama as a recluse avoiding contact with Boehner and other republicans, sources say it was a regular occurrence for the group to gather in a confidential format.
Neither Obama nor his republican counterparts have thoroughly responded to the controversy, but the most recent emergency briefing is just one of many meetings held between the parties since… early 2012. The top secret group, consisting of Obama and between four and six top republicans, has been ominously dubbed “the protectors” by other lawmakers on Capitol Hill, according to a White House official who asked to remain anonymous.
Regardless of who was behind the probe, it’s important to look at what information the DOJ sought to glean from AP’s phone records.
Federal officials have said investigators are trying to hunt down the sources of information for a May 7, 2012, AP story that disclosed details of a CIA operation in Yemen to stop an airliner bomb plot around the anniversary of the killing of Osama bin Laden. The probe is being run out of the U.S. Attorney’s office in the District of Columbia.
But, in that same report:
In February, CIA Director John Brennan provided a less-than-ominous description of the plot in testimony to the Senate Intelligence Committee. He told the panel that “there was never a threat to the American public as we had said so publicly, because we had inside control of the plot and the device was never a threat to the American public.”
So what were they really looking into? AP could have been investigating Obama and Boehner’s secret group, or perhaps they unwittingly stumbled upon something the group is tasked with silencing? In any case, the punishment was clear: outward violation of First Amendment rights.
AP CEO Gary Pruitt complained that the affected reporters hadn’t received warning about the probe.
“There can be no possible justification for such an overbroad collection of the telephone communications of The Associated Press and its reporters,” Pruitt wrote. “These records potentially reveal communications with confidential sources across all of the newsgathering activities undertaken by the AP during a two-month period, provide a road map to AP’s newsgathering operations, and disclose information about AP’s activities and operations that the government has no conceivable right to know.”
Attorney General Eric Holder on Tuesday defended the DOJ’s accessing AP’s records, but declared he had played no role in it. Holder said it was justified as part of an investigation into a “grave national security leak.”
Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole also justified not disclosing the investigation.
“Because such disclosures can risk lives and cause grave harm to the security of all Americans, the Department thoroughly investigates cases in which government employees and contractors trusted with our nation’s secrets are suspected of willfully disclosing that information to individuals not entitled to them,” Cole said in a letter to Pruitt.
*This story is part of an experiment on the acceptance of conspiracy theories based on conjecture and little-to-no evidence.