The Justice Department says Attorney General Eric Holder removed himself from a decision to subpoena phone records of The Associated Press.

Attorney General Eric Holder (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

A Justice Department statement Tuesday says that Holder stepped aside — a procedure known as recusal. The statement says Holder stepped aside because he had been interviewed in a government investigation into who provided information for an AP story that disclosed details of a CIA operation in Yemen.

Holder has assigned Deputy Attorney General Jim Cole to handle the phone records case.

The Justice Department secretly obtained two months of telephone records of reporters and editors for The AP in what the news cooperative's top executive called a massive and unprecedented intrusion into how news organizations gather the news.

RNC chairman says Holder should resign

The chairman of the Republican National Committee says Attorney General Eric Holder should resign over the decision by the Justice Department to secretly obtain two months of telephone records of reporters and editors for The Associated Press.

RNC chairman Reince Priebus says Holder has "trampled on the First Amendment" by allowing the Justice Department to issue secret subpoenas to "spy" on The AP.

At the same time, the American Society of News Editors called the actions "outrageous" and "appalling."

The records obtained by the Justice Department for April and May 2012 listed calls for the work and personal phone numbers of individual reporters and AP office numbers in New York, Washington and Hartford, Conn.

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