Discuss as:

House panel asks Holder to explain testimony on news media investigations

Getty Images

Attorney General Eric Holder attends a naturalization ceremony at the U.S. Department of Justice on Tuesday.

The chairman of the House Judiciary Committee charged Wednesday that Attorney General Eric Holder's involvement in a secret search warrant for a Fox News reporter’s private emails "contradicts" his testimony to the panel about investigating members of the news media.

The charge , in a letter to Holder, is the opening salvo in what committee aides say is an inquiry into whether Holder lied to the panel about his role in approving a search warrant alleging that Fox News reporter James Rosen was a possible “co-conspirator” in violations of the Espionage Act.

It came as federal officials disclosed new details about the Justice Department’s seizure of toll records of Fox phone lines.  On Aug. 27, 2010, the department sent a fax, a certified letter and an email to Rosen and Lawrence Jacobs, then the general counsel of Fox, informing them that it had obtained under subpoena two days of toll records on five Fox phone lines associated with Rosen, a law enforcement official told NBC News. (Jacobs, who has since left Fox, recently told several media outlets  he does not recall ever seeing such a notice. )

The Department of Justice notice came eight days after federal prosecutors indicted former intelligence analyst Stephen Kim of leaking classified information to Rosen — a charge he has denied. 

Meanwhile, the letter from Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., and Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wisc., the chair of the panel's subcommittee on crime, terrorism, homeland security and investigations, asked Holder a series of questions about his May 15 testimony under oath to the panel, focusing on his response to one question: "With regard to potential  prosecution of the press for the disclosure of material, that is not something that I have ever been involved in, heard of , or would think would be a wise policy."

The letter cited an NBC News report last week that Holder approved the sealed search warrant naming Rosen as a suspected violator of the Espionage Act as part of an investigation into the alleged leak of classified information about North Korea by Kim.

The department has since said that Holder was involved in "discussions" of the Rosen search warrant.  A Daily Beast story Tuesday, based on an interview with the attorney general and aides, reported that he was "beginning to feel a creeping sense of personal remorse" over his direct role in approving the search warrant.

Among questions for Holder in the letter:

  • "How can you claim to have never 'been involved' in the potential prosecution of a member of the media but you were admittedly involved in discussions regarding Mr. Rosen's emails?"  
  • "How can you claim to have never even been 'heard of' the potential prosecution of the press but were, at a minimum, involved in discussions regarding Mr. Rosen?"

The letter asked Holder to respond to the questions as soon as possible, but no later than June 5.

White House spokesman Jay Carney is asked Wednesday about the accuracy of U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder's testimony on Capitol Hill over the subpoena of a Fox News reporter's phone records.

In an email to NBC News, a Justice Department official said, “We have received the chairmen’s letter and we look forward to both describing the department’s policies and establishing that the attorney general’s testimony concerning the potential prosecution of the press  was consistent with the underlying facts with respect to the investigation and ultimate prosecution of Mr. Kim.”

Asked about the issue at a news briefing, White House press secretary Jay Carney said: “Every published report that I've read about the case in question says that it's completed, no further charges or prosecution are contemplated.”

The inquiry comes as Justice officials are reaching out to news organizations -- including NBC News -- for a series of meetings to discuss updating and revising department guidelines governing investigations relating to members of the news media. A meeting between Justice Department officials and representatives of the news media is scheduled for Friday.

Michael Isikoff is NBC News national investigative correspondent; Pete Williams is NBC News chief justice correspondent.

More from Open Channel:

Follow Open Channel from NBCNews.com on Twitter and Facebook