U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder must resign after his agency collected two months of telephone records from reporters at the Associated Press, Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus said Tuesday.
"Freedom of the press is an essential right in a free society. The First Amendment doesn't request the federal government to respect it; it demands it," Priebus wrote in a statement Tuesday. "Attorney General Eric Holder, in permitting the Justice Department to issue secret subpoenas to spy on Associated Press reporters, has trampled on the First Amendment and failed in his sworn duty to uphold the Constitution."
Holder has not publicly commented on the Justice Department's seizure of phone records from the AP, and his role in the record collecting has not yet been made clear. The Justice Department has not answered questions about the role of the nation's top law enforcement officer in the subpoenas of the AP's phone records.
"Because Attorney General Holder has so egregiously violated the public trust, the president should ask for his immediate resignation," Priebus wrote. "If President Obama does not, the message will be unmistakable: The President of the United States believes his administration is above the Constitution and does not respect the role of a free press."
Justice Department rules state the attorney general must sign off on subpoenas of members of the news media, though it's possible Holder formally recused himself from the AP case.
The U.S. attorney's office in Washington responded that federal investigators seek phone records from news outlets only after making "every reasonable effort to obtain information through alternative means." It did not disclose the subject of the probe.
The White House was unaware of the subpoenas, spokesman Jay Carney told reporters Monday night.
"We are not involved in decisions made in connection with criminal investigations, as those matters are handled independently by the Justice Department," Carney said.
Holder announced in June 2012 that he had assigned two U.S. attorneys to lead investigations into the possible leaking of state secrets, and members of Congress have complained about disclosures of electronic warfare campaigns against Iran, U.S. drone attacks overseas and Obama's personal involvement in "kill lists" of militants in Yemen and Pakistan.