BOB SCHIEFFER: Well, some of our stations are leaving us now. For the rest of you, we'll be back with an interview with the president and the chief executive officer of the Associated Press, Gary Pruitt. It's his first interview since word came that the Justice Department had secretly subpoenaed the AP's phone records in a leak case. Plus, we'll have our political panel, Dan Balz of the Washington Post, David Sanger of the New York Times, Lois Romano of Politico, and our own John Dickerson. So stay with us.
BOB SCHIEFFER: And welcome back now to FACE THE NATION. Gary Pruitt is the CEO and president of the Associated Press. Welcome to FACE THE NATION, first interview for you on television since this happened.
GARY PRUITT (Associated Press President and CEO): Thank you.
BOB SCHIEFFER: How did you find out about this? I mean suddenly what-- you just got a letter from the Justice Department?
GARY PRUITT: We were notified by the U.S. attorney from the Washington-- Washington, DC, district.
BOB SCHIEFFER: That you-- that the phone records of-- tell me exactly what-- what they did.
GARY PRUITT: Yes, what they did was they issued a secret subpoena for the phone toll records for twenty-one U-- AP phone lines. And these were phone lines for reporters, direct lines, cell phones, home phones. But also the office numbers, the main office numbers for AP offices in New York, Washington, the House of Representatives, and Hartford, Connecticut. So over a hundred-- approximately a hundred journalists used these telephone lines as part of news gathering. And over the course of the two months of the records that they swept up, thousands and-- upon thousands of news gathering calls were made.
BOB SCHIEFFER: And this was because the Associated Press had done a story last year-- tell us what that story was?
GARY PRUITT: It was a very big story. So the AP-- and-- and while the Justice Department hasn't told us this is the case, we know there's a-- an announced public investigation to leaks in this case and the focus was on this story. It was a story that only AP had. AP obtained knowledge that the U.S. had thwarted a-- an al Qaeda plot to place a bomb on an airliner bound for the United States. And it was round about the one an-- the first anniversary of the killing of Osama bin Laden.
BOB SCHIEFFER: So this was good news.
GARY 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.
BOB SCHIEFFER: Now, when you got the story, at first the people who gave it to you asked you to hold it for a certain time.
GARY PRUITT: Yes. 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 story, if you go with this story at this time. We respected that. We acted responsibly, we held the story.
BOB SCHIEFFER: Then?
GARY PRUITT: Then five days-- we-- 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.
BOB SCHIEFFER: And am I-- 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?
GARY PRUITT: The White House wanted to-- wanted us to hold it another day because they wanted to announce this successful foiling of the plot.
BOB SCHIEFFER: So they wanted-- they didn't want to get scooped.
GARY PRUITT: I guess. I guess that-- 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.
BOB SCHIEFFER: So--
GARY PRUITT: The national security issues had passed, we released the story.
BOB SCHIEFFER: You released the story. And if memory serves, the top terrorism guy at the White House, John Brennan, went on television the next morning and told the story.