As noted in the document, the U.S. media "is stunned" at revelations that the Department of Justice has collected information about incoming calls to more than 20 telephone lines belonging to the AP.
According to the authors of the letter, the actions of the authorities, calls into question the ethics of Department of Justice with regard to the press, as well as its ability to ensure the rights of journalists guaranteed by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution which expressly protects freedom of the press.
Organizations signing the letter included such newspaper giants as the New York Times and the Washington Post, broadcaster CNN, and publishing giant Gannett.
State agencies violating freedom of speech and media in the US - Russian Foreign Ministry
The recent statements of Associated Press executives regarding wiretapping of employees' telephones prove that freedom of speech and mass media are being violated in the United States, Russian Foreign Ministry commissioner for human rights, democracy and the rule of law Konstantin Dolgov said.
"Pay attention to the recent statements of Associated Press executives regarding wiretapping of their employees' telephones," Dolgov tweeted. "Reports on regular wiretapping of citizens' telephones in the US have become more frequent," the Russian diplomat said.
"US law enforcement agencies also continue active work on large-scale perusal of electronic messages on the Internet," Dolgov said. Dolgov said that "such state of affairs additionally aggravates the issue of state agencies violating freedom of speech and media in the US".
US politicians agree responsibility for AP probe falls on Obama as well
American politicians are disturbed by the AP scandal. What exactly they are worried about is that the White House has not yet acknowledged that a large portion of responsibility for the seizure of telephone records lies with them.
According to White House Press Secretary Jay Carney’s Monday statement, the Obama administration had no prior knowledge of the Justice Department’s attempts to get access to the agency’s phone records. Moreover, Carney stressed they were "not involved” and "those matters are handled independently by the Justice Department.”
Carney’s statement has angered some American politicians. They have reminded the President of his promise of transparency he made during the 2012 presidential campaign and claimed the Obama administration should not think they were not involved.
On Monday Republican Senator Rand Paul, a known constitutionalist, told in a TV interview that "this sounds like a president somewhat drunk on power, not cautious about how he uses power.”
The senator also spoke of the controversial legislation signed last year by President Obama that has put any American at risk of being detained without a trial and sent to a clandestine prison like the Guantanamo detention facility.
House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa, of the Republican Party, has called the scandal about AP telephone records "disturbing”. "Americans should take notice that top Obama administration officials increasingly see themselves as above the law and emboldened by the belief that they don’t have to answer to anyone,” Issa told reporters.
The same position was shared by some Democrats. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy said he was "very troubled by these allegations and wanted to hear the government’s explanation.” He also noted that "the burden is always on the government when they go after private information”.
U.S. Attorney General said he did not make the decision to seize telephone records of AP
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said on Tuesday he did not make the controversial decision to secretly seize telephone records of the Associated Press but defended his department's actions in the investigation of what he called a "very, very serious leak.
The decision to seek phone records of one of the world's largest news-gathering organizations was made by Deputy Attorney General Jim Cole, Holder said.
Holder, speaking at a press conference, said he recused himself from the matter to avoid a potential conflict of interest because he was interviewed by the FBI as part of the same leak investigation that targeted the AP records.
That seizure, denounced by critics as a gross intrusion into freedom of the press, has created an uproar in Washington and led to questions over how the Obama administration is balancing the need for national security with privacy rights.
Combined with a separate furor over the Internal Revenue Service's targeting of conservative political groups for extra scrutiny, it also is stoking fears of excessive government intrusion under President Barack Obama.
The White House has said it had no advance knowledge of the IRS or Justice Department actions.
Lawmakers from both parties on Tuesday criticized the Justice Department's decision to obtain the AP records. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid called the action "inexcusable."
But in a letter to AP president Gary Pruitt, Cole on Tuesday defended the department's unusual action against a member of the media, saying it was a necessary step in the year-old criminal probe of leaks of classified information.
A law enforcement official said the probe is related to information in a May 7, 2012, AP story about an operation, conducted by the CIA and allied intelligence agencies, that stopped a Yemen-based al Qaeda plot to detonate a bomb on an airplane headed for the United States.
Cole declined Pruitt's request to return the records.