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Sen. Bill Nelson: I told AP not to run Robert Levinson story

Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.). ( (J. Scott Applewhite/AP) Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.). ( (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) said early Friday that he urged the Associated Press not to publish a story about Robert Levinson, a retired FBI agent who disappeared in Iran more than six years ago and had been working for the CIA.

The AP first published the story Thursday afternoon. In the report, the wire service said that it confirmed Levinson's CIA ties in 2010 and had continued its reporting. AP said it had agreed three times to delay publishing the story "because the U.S. government said it was pursuing promising leads to get [Levinson] home."   The Washington Post published a similar story about Levinson later on Thursday.

Nelson, a member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, took interest in the case after he was approached by friends of Levinson, who is from Florida.

“I urged the editor of AP not to run the story," Nelson said in an interview after an early-morning Senate vote. He added that he personally asked the news service's executive editor, Kathleen Carroll, to withhold publication.

"My only response that I can give is this is classified information. I can’t talk about it," he said, adding later: "That’s all I can tell you. Just stay tuned."

Levinson traveled to the Iranian island of Kish in March 2007 to investigate corruption as he was discussing the renewal of a CIA contract he had held for several years.

The AP said in its report that it decided to publish because it had determined that attempts to rescue Levinson "have repeatedly come up empty" and because the U.S. government has not received any confirmation that Levinson is still alive in nearly three years.

Washington Post executive editor Martin Baron said in a statement that The Post "decided to publish because this story contained important revelations about the CIA that deserved ultimately to be disclosed. The story had been held for years by the AP, but such a story shouldn't be held forever. Enough time had passed."

Ed O’Keefe is covering the 2016 presidential campaign, with a focus on Jeb Bush and other Republican candidates. He's covered presidential and congressional politics since 2008. Off the trail, he's covered Capitol Hill, federal agencies and the federal workforce, and spent a brief time covering the war in Iraq.

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