May 13, 2013, is one of those days that many members of President Obama's administration will want to bleach from their brains. The day picked up where the weekend had ended with calls for an explanation of allegations that the IRS unfairly targeted conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status. In addition to having to respond to the IRS report at a Rose Garden press conference with British Prime Minister David Cameron at his side, Obama angrily defended his administration's handling of the terrorist attacks in Benghazi, Libya, that resulted in the deaths of four embassy employees, including ambassador Christopher Stevens.
Toward the end of the day the third strike came, with a report that the Justice Department for two months secretly collected the work, home and mobile phone records of Associated press reporters as part of an investigation led by Washington prosecutor Ronald C. Machen Jr. into a leak of sensitive information about a terrorist plot in Yemen.
"There can be no possible justification for such an overbroad collection of the telephone communications of the Associated Press and its reporters," the wire service's president and CEO Gary Pruitt said in a letter sent to Attorney General Eric Holder. "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."
Holder is required by department policy to sign off on requests for reporter phone records, but it's not clear whether he gave approval for this one.
Pruitt demanded that the Justice Department return the records to the AP and destroy any copies.
Machen's office released a statement that said the agency takes such steps only after making "every reasonable effort to obtain information through alternative means." Critics, however, want evidence of that effort.
Obama spokesman Jay Carney said that the White House was not aware of attempts to obtain AP phone records and deferred all questions to the Justice Department.
Speaking on CNN's The Situation Room With Wolf Blitzer Monday evening, House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, who has previously feuded with Holder and other DOJ officials, accused the agency of "intruding" on the freedom of the press.
He also suggested that it could result in yet another congressional investigation.
"There are serious problems at DOJ, this is just the latest one," said Issa, adding that Judiciary Committee "Chairman [Bob] Goodlatte and I will be happy to work together" to explore what happened.
The wait won't be long. Coincidentally, Holder was already scheduled to appear before the judiciary panel Wednesday afternoon for a hearing on oversight at his agency.
Now the question is just how hot his seat will be.
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(Photo: Molly Riley/AP Photo, File)
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