(CNN) – The Republican-controlled House Judiciary Committee is looking into whether Attorney General Eric Holder lied under oath earlier this month when he said he wasn’t involved in the “potential prosecution of the press,” two Republican committee sources confirmed Tuesday.
Though he testified in a May 15 Congressional hearing that he’s “never heard of” the press being potentially charged for obtaining leaked material, it has since been reported that he signed off on the Justice Department’s decision to seek a search warrant in 2010 for Fox News reporter James Rosen’s private e-mails as part of a leak probe.
Holder’s testimony this month came amid criticism of the Justice Department’s investigation of Associated Press phone records as part of alleged leaks by government officials.
During the hearing, Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Georgia, sought clarification from Holder, asking whether there was a law that would allow authorities to prosecute those who published leaked material. In response, Holder said “you’ve got a long way to go to try to prosecute the press” for doing so.
Johnson pointed to the Espionage Act of 1917, saying it would authorize the prosecution of anyone who disclosed classified information. The Obama administration has used the law multiple times to target suspected leakers, but it has not used the law to prosecute journalists.
“With regard to the potential prosecution of the press for the disclosure of material – that is not something I’ve ever been involved in, heard of, would think would be wise policy,” Holder said at the hearing.
“The focus should be on those people who break their oaths and put the American people at risk,” he added. “Not reporters who gather this information. That should not be the focus of these investigations.”
But given his knowledge of the 2010 probe into who allegedly leaked a classified document to Rosen–a story that broke last week–his comments from the May 15 hearing are now being questioned by the House Judiciary Committee, as first reported by The Hill.
An FBI affidavit used to obtain the warrant for Rosen’s e-mails said there was probable cause the reporter had broken the law when he allegedly received a leaked classified report from a State Department contractor. The affidavit described Rosen as potentially being an “aider and abettor and/or co-conspirator” to the crime of disclosing government secrets, opening up criticism that the Obama administration was targeting Rosen.
However, the Justice Department did not prosecute Rosen, nor did it file charges against him. While he was listed as a “co-conspirator,” that often times does not mean he would be considered a target.
Rep. John Conyers, the ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee, defended Holder against the committee’s decision to look into the attorney general’s comments.
“I believe Attorney General Holder, who answered questions posed to him for over four hours, was forthright and did not mislead the Committee,” the Michigan Democrat said.
“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,” he added. “However, there is no need to turn a policy disagreement into allegations of misconduct.”
Facing questions over the administration’s leak investigations, President Obama announced Thursday he has directed Holder to review federal guidelines for investigating leaks and reporters. That review will include assembling a panel of media representatives.
A Justice Department source says Attorney General Eric Holder will begin meetings with media representatives late this week to discuss how to deal with leak cases involving reporters. The source said Holder is expected to hold separate meetings with television and newspaper executives. The meetings could begin as early as Thursday.
The White House also publicly supported this month a law pushed by Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-New York, that would protect reporters under leak investigations.
Holder said Tuesday he is “not satisfied” with some of the guidelines on how prosecutors conduct leak investigations involving reporters.
“We’re going to have a real frank, good conversation about this,” Holder told reporters following a naturalization ceremony for new U.S. citizens. “And I think, we’re going to make some changes because I’m not satisfied with where we are.”
According to an article in the Daily Beast, aides to Holder said the attorney general is “beginning to feel a creeping sense of personal remorse” because he signed off on the search warrant for Rosen.
Fox expressed outrage that Rosen was characterized as a possible co-conspirator in the leak case against former State Department contractor Stephen Jin-Woo Kim. Kim allegedly leaked to Rosen a classified intelligence report about North Korea. His case has not yet gone to trial. Court documents also indicate prosecutors sought phone records for some Fox phone lines.
In the Associated Press case, the Justice Department obtained phone records for 20 phone lines as part of its investigation into a leak about a 2012 Yemen bomb plot. Holder recused himself in that investigation because investigators had interviewed him about the leak. His deputy attorney general authorized seeking the AP phone records, but there was no suggestion AP reporters broke laws.
Holder and other officials have said they are looking for the leakers and not targeting reporters.
“While both of these cases were handled within the law and according to Justice Department guidelines they are reminders of the unique role the news media plays in our democratic system, and signal that both our laws and guidelines need to be updated,” Holder told the Daily Beast in an interview.
Holder said it’s an opportunity to “consider how we strike the right balance between the interests of law enforcement and freedom of the press.”