Republican lawmakers are demanding Attorney General Eric Holder clarify remarks he made earlier this month regarding his role in the Justice Department's controversial probes into reporter records in the department's effort to discover the identity of those leaking government information.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., said in a letter sent to Holder Wednesday that "media reports and statements issued by the department regarding the search warrants for [Fox News reporter James Rosen's] emails appear to be at odds with your sworn testimony before the committee."
"We are writing to you with great concern regarding your recent testimony before the House Judiciary Committee," said Goodlatte in the letter, which was also signed by Rep. James Sensenbrenner, Jr., R-Wisc., chairman of the Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security and Investigations subcommittee.
Holder sat before a House panel on May 15 and told lawmakers that he had not been "involved in" or "heard of" prosecuting a member of the press for publishing leaked material.
"You got a long way to go to try to prosecute people, the press, for the publication of that material. Those prosecutions have not fared well in American history," Holder had said. In response to further questioning, he added, "With regard to potential prosecution of the press for the disclosure of material, that is not something that I have ever been involved in, heard of, or would think would be a wise policy."
But news outlets subsequently reported that the Justice Department issued a search warrant affidavit in 2010.
"There is probable cause to believe that [Rosen] has committed violation" of the Espionage Act and "at the very least, either as an aider, abettor and/or co-conspirator of [the leaker]," said Goodlatte's letter, quoting the affidavit.
Goodlatte called on Holder to respond to a series of detailed questions about his knowledge and involvement in the investigation of Rosen by June 5.
"We believe – and we hope you will agree – it is imperative that the committee, the Congress and the American people be provided a full and accurate account of your involvement in and approval of these search warrants," he said.
Lawmakers first began scrutinizing the Justice Department's role in investigating reporters after The Associated Press revealed a widespread probe into their reporter's phone records and emails after they published a story about a covert CIA mission. Holder had recused himself from that investigation, but the Rosen effort pre-dates it.
The panel's top Democrat says Holder did not mislead the committee, however.
"I believe Attorney General Holder, who answered questions posed to him for over four hours, was forthright and did not mislead the committee," said Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., in a released statement. "Certainly, there are policy disagreements as to how the First Amendment should apply to these series of leak investigations being conducted by the Justice Department and that is and should be an area for the committee to consider. However, there is no need to turn a policy disagreement into allegations of misconduct."
The Justice Department did not immediately return a request for comment. But media outlets report that both Holder and sources close to Holder say he regrets the depth and breadth of the media probes and hopes to work with lawmakers to detail a new Justice Department policy going forward.
Holder is also setting up meetings with top journalists at major news publications starting this week, according to Politico.
"A source close to Holder said that in retrospect, he regrets the breadth and wording of the investigation involving Fox's James Rosen (which Holder approved) and recognizes that the subpoena for AP records (Holder had recused himself from that case) took in more phone lines than necessary," Politico said Wednesday.