Attorney General Eric Holder told reporters at a Tuesday afternoon press conference that he wasn't aware of many facts relating to the recent seizure of records for 20 phone lines used by The Associated Press.
The AP revealed Monday that the Justice Department seized records from April and May 2012 for phones used by 100 journalists. The AP was notified on Friday, after the records were taken.
"I recused myself," Holder told reporters, "toward the beginning of the investigation."
The nation's top law enforcement official said that he recused himself out of "an abundance of caution" to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest because he had been interviewed by investigators looking into the source of a terrorism-related leak at the root of the records seizure.
The leaker being sought by investigators provided the AP with information about a foiled terrorist plot planned for May 2, 2012, the first anniversary of Osama bin Laden's death.
"The plot was significant," the AP's Monday article on the seizure explained, "because the White House had told the public it had 'no credible information that terrorist organizations, including al-Qaida, are plotting attacks in the U.S. to coincide with the (May 2) anniversary of bin Laden's death.'"
Holder deferred questions about the phone records to lower-level Justice Department officials and to the U.S. Attorney in D.C.
The attorney general defended the judgment of the officials who authorized the record seizure, saying he was confident the officials "followed all of the appropriate Justice Department regulations."
"This was a very, very serious leak," Holder said, "this was among the most serious - top two or three" in the past few decades. "It put the American people at risk," he claimed, and "required very aggressive action."
Holder said that he was "proud" of the Obama administration's record on transparency. The Obama administration has prosecuted more whistleblowers under the Espionage Act of 1917 than all previous administrations combined, Rolling Stone reports.