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America’s Attorney General has been grilled by lawmakers over the secret seizure of phone records from the Associated Press news agency.

Eric Holder told the House Judiciary Committee that he was not involved in the leak investigation that prompted the seizure – and so the decision was not his.

Committee Chairman, Republican Bob Goodlatte, asked: “There has been a lot of criticism raised about the scope of this investigation including why the department needed to subpoena records for 20 people over a lengthy two month period. Why was such a broad scope approved?”

Holder replied: “The matter is being supervised by the deputy attorney general. I am not familiar with the reasons why the subpoena was constructed in the way that it was because I’m simply not a part of the case.”

The seizure has been branded by some as a gross intrusion into press freedom.

It came as investigators were trying to establish whether an unauthorised leak led to a report about an operation that stopped a Yemen-based al Qaeda plot to bomb an America-bound aeroplane.

Holder said on Tuesday that 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 probe.

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