WASHINGTON (AP) — The Justice Department violated its own rules when it secretly seized records for thousands of phone calls to and from journalists for The Associated Press as part of a leak investigation, the head of the company said Wednesday.

AP President and CEO Gary Pruitt told a luncheon gathering of journalists and others that the seizure was not only excessively broad, but that the department failed to notify AP in advance of the subpoena, as normally required. Department rules say a delay in notification is justified only if needed to protect the integrity of its investigation. Pruitt said that justification was unfathomable in this case.

The freedom of the press, Pruitt said, is a bedrock of the Constitution and the sweeping seizure of phone records threatens the very foundation of that freedom. “The DOJ’s actions could not have been more tailor-made to comfort authoritarian regimes that want to suppress their own news media,” he said.

The Justice Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment. READ MORE …