James Cole, the deputy attorney general who the Justice Department said oversaw the secret collection of AP reporters' phone records in 2012, says in a letter to the news organization that Justice acted properly in doing so.

"We strive in every case to strike the proper balance between the public's interest in the free flow of information and the public's interest in the protection of national security and effective enforcement of our criminal laws," Cole wrote. "We believe we have done so in this matter."

The Justice Department is allowed to obtain phone records without notifying someone if doing so would threaten the integrity of the investigation. Cole said the Justice Department sought the records only after exhausting other methods of information-gathering.

"Please understand that I appreciate your concerns and that we do not take lightly the decision to issue subpoenas for toll records associated with members of the news media," Cole wrote.

In a letter to the Justice Department on Monday, AP executive Gary Pruitt said the collection of the phone records was "troubling" and "overbroad."

"We regard this action by the Department of Justice as a serious interference with AP’s
constitutional rights to gather and report the news," Pruitt wrote. "While we evaluate our options we urgently request that you immediately return to the AP the telephone toll records that the Department subpoenaed and destroy all copies."

Below is the full letter:

Justice Department letter to the Associated Press by The Washington Post