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AP chief: Records seizure 'unconstitutional'

WASHINGTON -- The president and chief executive of The Associated Press on Sunday called the government's secret seizure of two months of reporters' phone records "unconstitutional" and said the news cooperative had not ruled out legal action against the Justice Department.

Gary Pruitt, in his first television interviews since it was revealed the Justice Department subpoenaed phone records of AP reporters and editors, said the move already has had a chilling effect on journalism. Pruitt said the seizure has made sources less willing to talk to AP journalists and, in the long term, could limit Americans' information from all news outlets.

Pruitt told CBS' "Face the Nation" that the government has no business monitoring AP's newsgathering activities.

In a separate interview with the AP, Pruitt said the news cooperative had not decided its next move but had not ruled out legal action against the government. He said the Justice Department's investigation is out of control and President Barack Obama should rein it in.

"It's too early to know if we'll take legal action but I can tell you we are positively displeased and we do feel that our constitutional rights have been violated," Pruitt said.

"They've been secretive, they've been overbroad and abusive . . . so much so that taken together, they are unconstitutional because they violate our First Amendment rights," he added.

White House senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer said the president "has complete faith in Attorney General Holder." He also insisted the White House was not involved in the decision to seek AP phone records.

"A cardinal rule is we don't get involved in independent investigations. And this is one of those," Pfeiffer said.

Although the Justice Department has not explained why it sought phone records from the AP, Pruitt pointed to a May 7, 2012, story that disclosed details of a successful CIA operation in Yemen to stop an airliner bomb plot around the anniversary of the May 2, 2011, killing of Osama bin Laden.

The AP delayed publication of that story at the request of government officials who said it would jeopardize national security.

"We respected that, we acted responsibly, we held the story," Pruitt said.

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