A lot of people are pointing to this Bob Schieffer interview of AP President Gary Pruitt because, later in the interview, Pruitt claims seizing the AP’s records without narrowing the scope or notifying the AP is “unconstitutional.” While that might make an interesting — though probably unsuccessful — argument if the AP takes this to court (note, Schieffer also asked whether the White House was trying to intimidate the AP, which seems the only basis for making a claim about constitutionality), I actually wanted to point to how Pruitt described the leak.
He emphasizes something that I pointed to here: the AP believed (or now says it believed) this was newsworthy because the White House had repeatedly said the government knew of no credible threat tied to the anniversary.
Pruitt: It was a very big story. And while the Justice Department hasn’t told us this is the case, we know there’s an announced public investigation to leaks in this case the focus was on this story. It was a story that only AP had. AP obtained knowledge that the US had thwarted an al Qaeda plot to place a bomb on an airliner bound for the United States. And it was round about the one, the year anniversary of the killing of Osama bin Laden.
Schieffer: So this was good news?
Pruitt: This was very good news. But strangely, at the same time, the Administration, through the Press Secretary and the Department of Homeland Security were telling the American public that there was no credible evidence of a terrorist plot related to the anniversary of the killing of Osama bin Laden. So that was misleading to the American public. We felt the American public needed to know this story.
Schieffer: You got this story, at first the people that gave it to you asked you to hold it for a certain time.
Pruitt: Yeah, so what happened was we got this story, we went to the government — the White House, intelligence agencies. They said, “there’s a national security risk if you run this, if you go with this story at this time.” We respected that. We acted responsibly. Withheld the story. We held it for five days. On the fifth day, we heard from high officials in two parts of the government that the national security issues had passed. And at that point we released the story.
Schieffer: Am I correct in saying that when you decided finally to release it then you got word that the White House did not want it released because they wanted to announce it themselves?
Pruitt: The White House wanted to, wanted us to hold it another day because they wanted to announce this successful foiling of the plot.
Schieffer: So they didn’t want to get scooped?
Pruitt: I guess! They didn’t tell us their motive, but that certainly seemed that way to us. We didn’t think that was a legitimate reason for holding the story. The national security issues had passed, we released this story.
Schieffer: And if memory serves the top counterterrorism official at the White House went on television the next morning and told the story.
Pruitt: Yes. The Administration was very aggressive in telling the story. [my emphasis]
What Pruitt is referring to, in part, is that Jay Carney introduced his April 26, 2012 press briefing by offering up the information that there were not threats tied to the OBL anniversary.
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