Senate Republicans aren't quite ready to get up in arms over revelations that the Department of Justice seized the phone records of Associated Press reporters and editors.
With lots of scandals to grip Washington's attention at the moment — including the news that the IRS improperly targeted conservative groups — many GOP senators were resistant to condemn the DOJ for the gathering of phone records, including personal phones, from the wire service as part of a wide investigation into national security leaks.
"I don't want to jump to judgment here because many of us did call on the administration to investigate leaks; I am struck by what appears to be a very broad net and not a very targeted look," said Sen. John Cornyn, the Republican Whip. "I think the best thing to do would be to have the attorney general come over and testify before the Judiciary Committee."
"The problem is, we have so many things happening now that cause people to question the motivation and the actions of the executive branch that it's easy to sort of jump to conclusions that this was wrong. I'm not yet convinced about that," Coryn said, before reiterating that he'd like to hear more from Attorney General Eric Holder about the DOJ's reasoning for seizing the phone records.
At a press conference with Republican leaders earlier on Tuesday, the IRS scandal remained the focal point for the senators, ready to rail against the Obama administration. None specifically mentioned the AP and the DOJ, with the exception of Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who briefly answered a question on the sucject toward the end of the event.
"I can only speak for myself, but it strikes me this Justice Department inquiry will go forward and we'll look forward to seeing what comes of it," he said.
Sen. John McCain, not a senator known for holding back his feelings, told reporters that he would need to know more about the investigation before making a judgment that the DOJ's actions were inappropriate.
"I need to know the parameters of what the investigation was. Clearly there was a violation of national security and classified material. Now, did they just cast a wide net and see who they can catch or did they just look for information about specific individuals?" he said. "If the latter is the case then I don't have a quarrel with it. But if they are just throwing the net out and seeing what they can catch, then I think that deserves serious congressional scrutiny."
Sen. Ted Cruz, too, told BuzzFeed that while it appeared the DOJ had "cast a very wide net," senators "should await the facts of the specific predicate for that investigation."
"Given the apparent breadth of the taps into communications with some 20 reporters, it raises real questions as to whether this was a targeted investigation or something broader that was not respecting the important First Amendment role of the media," he said.
There were, of course, senators who said the DOJ seizure of phone records was inappropriate on its face.
"It was not appropriate," said Sen. Chuck Grassley. "Obviously something was violated."
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid came out forcefully against the DOJ earlier on Tuesday and said even in the case where a national security breach was being investigated, the DOJ had gone too far.
"I have trouble defending what the Justice Department did, looking at the AP. I really believe in the First Amendment, I think it's one of the great things we have as a country," he said. "It's inexcusable, there's no way to justify this."
Kate Nocera is the DC Bureau Chief for BuzzFeed’s Washington, DC bureau. Nocera is a recipient of the National Press Foundation's 2014 Dirksen Award for distinguished reporting on Congress.
Contact Kate Nocera at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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