Commentary Magazine


Topic: AP phone records

West Wing Throws Holder Under the Bus

Liberals and Democrats have been doing their best to stonewall calls for Attorney General Eric Holder’s resignation, but apparently some of those serving in the office of his boss aren’t as much in love with him as some of his defenders elsewhere. That’s the only way to interpret the astonishing quotes from West Wing officials in yesterday’s front-page feature on Holder in the Sunday New York Times. Leaks from sources in the Obama White House to the Times are a staple of contemporary journalism, even though they are not likely to generate investigations even when highly classified information concerning security is involved. But what was so interesting about this latest story is the way some of the Times‘s usual sources dished on Holder yesterday:

While the White House publicly backed Mr. Holder as he tried to smooth over the latest uproar amid new speculation about his future, some in the West Wing privately tell associates they wish he would step down, viewing him as politically maladroit. But the latest attacks may stiffen the administration’s resistance in the near term to a change for fear of emboldening critics.

Democrats continue to regard Republican attacks on Holder as reason enough to support him, but the notion that everyone inside the administration is thrilled with his performance is obviously an exaggeration at best. Though liberals continue to deny that he committed perjury when he testified before the House of Representatives and denied knowing about potential prosecutions of journalists—a statement that failed to take into account his role in the investigation of Fox News’s James Rosen—the White House leaks show Holder is unlikely to survive in office for long.

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Liberals and Democrats have been doing their best to stonewall calls for Attorney General Eric Holder’s resignation, but apparently some of those serving in the office of his boss aren’t as much in love with him as some of his defenders elsewhere. That’s the only way to interpret the astonishing quotes from West Wing officials in yesterday’s front-page feature on Holder in the Sunday New York Times. Leaks from sources in the Obama White House to the Times are a staple of contemporary journalism, even though they are not likely to generate investigations even when highly classified information concerning security is involved. But what was so interesting about this latest story is the way some of the Times‘s usual sources dished on Holder yesterday:

While the White House publicly backed Mr. Holder as he tried to smooth over the latest uproar amid new speculation about his future, some in the West Wing privately tell associates they wish he would step down, viewing him as politically maladroit. But the latest attacks may stiffen the administration’s resistance in the near term to a change for fear of emboldening critics.

Democrats continue to regard Republican attacks on Holder as reason enough to support him, but the notion that everyone inside the administration is thrilled with his performance is obviously an exaggeration at best. Though liberals continue to deny that he committed perjury when he testified before the House of Representatives and denied knowing about potential prosecutions of journalists—a statement that failed to take into account his role in the investigation of Fox News’s James Rosen—the White House leaks show Holder is unlikely to survive in office for long.

As the Times story suggests, Holder’s long tenure despite a series of disasters that included the Fast and Furious scandal as well as the revelations about the Department of Justice’s snooping on the Associated Press and Fox News is purely a function of having friends in high places. In Holder’s case that means Obama consigliere Valerie Jarrett and her good friend Michelle Obama, who also happens to be pals with Holder’s wife. The president also likes Holder and that, and only that, has kept him in place despite the public relations disaster that has unfolded in recent weeks.

Any other Cabinet official that lied to Congress and then spoke of “regrets” to the Daily Beast in the same week as he tried to get the press to make nice with him in off-the-record meetings would be widely thought of as having one foot on a banana peel and another out the door. But with three aces like that in his hand, Holder may be under no real pressure to resign. That’s why some deep thinkers in the West Wing have realized that despite the loyalty felt toward Holder by the boss and the most powerful women in the administration, he is a clear liability that is helping to mire the president’s second term in scandal.

The West Wing leakers are right about Holder’s problems.

“The White House is apoplectic about him, and has been for a long time,” said a Democratic former government official who did not want to be identified while talking about friends.

Some advisers to Mr. Obama believe that Mr. Holder does not manage or foresee problems, the former official said. “How hard would it be to anticipate that The A.P. would be unhappy?” the former official said. “And then they haven’t defended their position.”

But, of course, Holder’s problems go a lot deeper than a lack of PR expertise. Holder’s lies about the Rosen investigation help feed the public’s frustration with the administration’s incompetence that flows from the Benghazi and IRS scandals. But they are also a sign of a department of Justice that is out of control and a leader with a credibility problem.

Democrats may be confident that the last of month of scandals will eventually calm down and that most Americans won’t care that much about them in the long run. But so long as Eric Holder remains in office, it’s going to be difficult for the administration to turn the page. Holder serves at the pleasure of the president, and so long as Obama sticks with him he need not resign, even as he is raked over the coals for his mendacity before Congress. But the cracks in the heretofore solid wall of administration defense of Holder shows that even he knows it’s only a matter of time before he packs it in.

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Holder’s Divide and Conquer Strategy

Attorney General Eric Holder’s press charm offensive began earlier this week with an interview in the Daily Beast in which he expressed regrets for the Justice Department’s spying on journalists. It escalated yesterday with the first of a series of meetings with publication executives and bureau chiefs where he claimed the DOJ would rethink its guidelines for dealing with journalists who have been leaked government information.

But while these efforts may seem like futile gestures that won’t get Holder off the hook, they are actually a clever tactic. Those who attend these meetings need to be conscious that what is going on is not so much an attempt to mend fences with the media but an effort to divide and conquer the press. The attorney general and the president know that if they can tap into the liberal mainstream media’s inherent sympathy for Obama and antipathy for his critics, they can divert attention from the current spate of scandals. The refusal of many liberal pundits–who had joined in the universal condemnation of the government’s spying on the Associated Press and Fox News reporter James Rosen–to connect the dots when it comes to Holder’s lies about the issue shows that there is good reason to believe the administration can succeed in avoiding being held accountable for their actions. Getting journalists to make nice with Holder rather than hold his feet to the fire is the first step toward making this a reality.

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Attorney General Eric Holder’s press charm offensive began earlier this week with an interview in the Daily Beast in which he expressed regrets for the Justice Department’s spying on journalists. It escalated yesterday with the first of a series of meetings with publication executives and bureau chiefs where he claimed the DOJ would rethink its guidelines for dealing with journalists who have been leaked government information.

But while these efforts may seem like futile gestures that won’t get Holder off the hook, they are actually a clever tactic. Those who attend these meetings need to be conscious that what is going on is not so much an attempt to mend fences with the media but an effort to divide and conquer the press. The attorney general and the president know that if they can tap into the liberal mainstream media’s inherent sympathy for Obama and antipathy for his critics, they can divert attention from the current spate of scandals. The refusal of many liberal pundits–who had joined in the universal condemnation of the government’s spying on the Associated Press and Fox News reporter James Rosen–to connect the dots when it comes to Holder’s lies about the issue shows that there is good reason to believe the administration can succeed in avoiding being held accountable for their actions. Getting journalists to make nice with Holder rather than hold his feet to the fire is the first step toward making this a reality.

Though most of those invited to the meetings begged off because holding an off-the-record talk with the person at the center of this scandal was inappropriate, those who did show up dished most of the details. As Politico, whose editor-in-chief John Harris was there, reported, the talk centered on non-controversial suggestions about seeking a better “balance” between protecting national security and respecting the First Amendment rights of journalists.

That’s all well and good but what the press needs to be doing with General Holder is not holding his hand and pledging mutual coexistence. He needs to be pressed on why he lied to Congress on May 15 about knowing nothing about potential prosecutions of journalists when he had already signed off on documents accusing Rosen of being a “co-conspirator” in a crime for doing his job. Holder and his boss President Obama also need to explain how it is the same person that was responsible for these outrageous attacks on press freedoms can possibly be trusted to stop such abuses in the future.

The point is we don’t really need a redrawing of guidelines about national security and the press. What we need is an attorney general who respects the Constitution.

No one disputes that the government has a duty to protect genuine secrets or that the press should not publish or broadcast material that would endanger lives or compromise America’s ability to defend itself. But despite the pious proclamations on these subjects emanating from those seeking to rationalize the indefensible treatment of the AP and Rosen, what’s happened the past four and half years can’t really be excused in that manner.

Holder’s jihad against the press isn’t really about leaks. Leaking is, after all, something the Obama White House has turned into an art form. The series of flattering stories about Obama’s prowess as a national security leader that wound up on the front page of the Sunday New York Times last year prior to his re-election were all anonymously sourced from administration figures. But we have yet to hear of anyone in the White House or their little friends in the media getting the James Rosen treatment.

This administration has prosecuted more people for speaking about government secrets than all of its predecessors combined. What Holder has done is to create an atmosphere of intimidation aimed at preventing people from talking about government operations with the press, not making it harder for officials to puff the president even if, as with the case with last year’s stories in the Times, they were based on highly secret national security matters.

What is needed at DOJ is a change of leadership, not better communication skills. Anyone in the media, especially those who troop to Holder’s office to make nice with him this week, needs to keep that in mind. Liberal journalists who protect this president and his attorney general rather than defending the principles of a free press are falling prey to a divide and conquer strategy aimed at isolating the president’s critics, not a reevaluation of a flawed policy.

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Excusing Eric Holder’s Deceptions

The way the press has united to protest the Justice Department’s attempts to spy on journalists has been remarkable. Though a few outlier contrarians are claiming the Associated Press or James Rosen of Fox News were in the wrong and deserved to be snooped on, from right to left the press has largely joined together to protest this unprecedented encroachment on the constitutional rights of journalists. Even most liberal members of the media understand that the attempt to brand Rosen’s activity as a violation of the 1917 Espionage Act is nothing less than an attempt to criminalize reporting about the government.

However, there are clear limits to the sense of outrage about government’s war on journalists. What we have witnessed in the last month is what Jonah Goldberg wittily referred to as an Arab Spring in the media as some Obama apologists have allowed the leak prosecutions, as well as questions about Benghazi and the IRS, to cause them to do some unusually critical reporting about the administration. But when it comes to connecting the dots between their justified outrage and Attorney General Eric Holder’s conduct, the old partisan divide appears to be reappearing. Though Holder appears to have either perjured himself when he appeared before a House committee on May 15 when testifying about prosecutions of journalists or else lied on the documents he sent to federal judges to get them to authorize the snooping on James Rosen, many in the press have reverted to form and are giving him a pass.

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The way the press has united to protest the Justice Department’s attempts to spy on journalists has been remarkable. Though a few outlier contrarians are claiming the Associated Press or James Rosen of Fox News were in the wrong and deserved to be snooped on, from right to left the press has largely joined together to protest this unprecedented encroachment on the constitutional rights of journalists. Even most liberal members of the media understand that the attempt to brand Rosen’s activity as a violation of the 1917 Espionage Act is nothing less than an attempt to criminalize reporting about the government.

However, there are clear limits to the sense of outrage about government’s war on journalists. What we have witnessed in the last month is what Jonah Goldberg wittily referred to as an Arab Spring in the media as some Obama apologists have allowed the leak prosecutions, as well as questions about Benghazi and the IRS, to cause them to do some unusually critical reporting about the administration. But when it comes to connecting the dots between their justified outrage and Attorney General Eric Holder’s conduct, the old partisan divide appears to be reappearing. Though Holder appears to have either perjured himself when he appeared before a House committee on May 15 when testifying about prosecutions of journalists or else lied on the documents he sent to federal judges to get them to authorize the snooping on James Rosen, many in the press have reverted to form and are giving him a pass.

That’s the only way to explain the decision of many liberal pundits to accept the notion that Holder wasn’t lying to the House. To refresh our memories, here is what Holder said on May 15 when specifically questioned by Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Georgia) about the possibility of journalists being prosecuted under the Espionage Act for reporting information that the government labeled as classified:

With regard to the potential prosecution of the press for the disclosure of material, that is not something that I’ve ever been involved in, heard of or would think would be a wise policy. In fact, my view is quite the opposite.

Yet we know that early in Obama’s first term, Holder had personally signed off on requests for judicial permission to read James Rosen’s emails and seize his phone records by labeling him as a “co-conspirator” and someone who “aided and abetted” a crime by seeking to get a source to give him information.

Holder’s liberal defenders as well as the White House are parsing his statement as being about actual ongoing attempts to prosecute and since Rosen hadn’t actually been charged, what the attorney general said could be interpreted as being literally true. But Holder referred to “potential prosecution of the press,” not cases already on the dock. That means that the most generous way to evaluate his statement is to say that it was an attempt to deceive. In plain English, he perjured himself and there’s little doubt that’s exactly what liberal pundits would be saying if any of George W. Bush’s attorney generals had spoken in this manner to Congress.

An alternative interpretation is that Holder’s statement was true because the DOJ’s request for the right to spy on Rosen was where the lying occurred. It is entirely possible that the document with Holder’s signature that spoke of Rosen as a “co-conspirator” in a crime was blatantly disingenuous. While this administration has prosecuted more leakers (though not any of the anonymous White House officials who gave friendly media outlets flattering information about President Obama and his policies) than all of its predecessors combined, perhaps Holder wasn’t so stupid as to think he could actually get away with criminalizing journalism. Instead, he just brazenly lied to the judges in order to con them into authorizing federal snooping.

A third theory gets Holder off the hook for lying to Congress or the judiciary but is an indictment of his leadership. That one holds that Holder didn’t know what was being done in his name (even on documents he signed) and therefore simply came up blank when asked about the Espionage Act. This fits in with the “we’re not criminal, just incompetent” excuse the administration has been using on the IRS and Benghazi. But it also treats Holder as a cipher rather than the experienced and powerful figure that he actually is.

But no matter which of these three options you want to pick, Holder has clearly exhibited behavior that is not only not up to the high standards the president supposedly holds for his government but is a disgrace by any standard. It’s time for liberals to stop trying to excuse his mendacious behavior. Holder may still have the affection of his friend in the Oval Office, but its time for his defenders in the press to cut him loose.

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Is Holder on the Way Out?

President Obama has shown a remarkable ability to tune out the media as well as public opinion when it suits him. That should stand Attorney General Eric Holder in good stead as he weathers the backlash that he is facing in the wake of the revelations of Department of Justice’s shocking attacks on the freedom of the press. Holder is an Obama loyalist and probably the most experienced Washington hand in the administration and the one figure many observers thought most likely to last from the beginning to the end of the Obama presidency. Yet the latest statements coming from Holder about the investigations into Fox News reporter James Rosen and the Associated Press that he authorized show how weak his position has become. Throw in the growing realization even on the left that Holder must go, and you get the sense that even a president who is reluctant to make his allies walk the plank—even if that would help his political standing—is starting to consider asking the attorney general to disappear.

Holder’s claim in an interview in the Daily Beast that he didn’t understand the ramifications of his decisions until he read about them in the Washington Post lacks credibility. So, too, do his sappy expressions of “regret” about the way his department—with his direct approval—has infringed on the rights of the press. But given all we know about what went into the effort to find a judge to sign off on these probes, as our John Podhoretz wrote this morning in the New York Post, “the whole story smells to high heaven.” But the willingness of prominent Obama supporters to view this mess with the same sort of disdain may mean a tipping point has been reached. Liberal legal analyst Jonathan Turley’s column in USA Today notes that this isn’t the first time Holder has tried to deny responsibility for scandals such as the Fast and Furious debacle. But the lies Holder told when he testified at a hearing of the House Judiciary Committee about the seizure of the AP’s phone records as well as the subsequent fibbing about this issue make it necessary that the president fire the attorney general as soon as possible.

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President Obama has shown a remarkable ability to tune out the media as well as public opinion when it suits him. That should stand Attorney General Eric Holder in good stead as he weathers the backlash that he is facing in the wake of the revelations of Department of Justice’s shocking attacks on the freedom of the press. Holder is an Obama loyalist and probably the most experienced Washington hand in the administration and the one figure many observers thought most likely to last from the beginning to the end of the Obama presidency. Yet the latest statements coming from Holder about the investigations into Fox News reporter James Rosen and the Associated Press that he authorized show how weak his position has become. Throw in the growing realization even on the left that Holder must go, and you get the sense that even a president who is reluctant to make his allies walk the plank—even if that would help his political standing—is starting to consider asking the attorney general to disappear.

Holder’s claim in an interview in the Daily Beast that he didn’t understand the ramifications of his decisions until he read about them in the Washington Post lacks credibility. So, too, do his sappy expressions of “regret” about the way his department—with his direct approval—has infringed on the rights of the press. But given all we know about what went into the effort to find a judge to sign off on these probes, as our John Podhoretz wrote this morning in the New York Post, “the whole story smells to high heaven.” But the willingness of prominent Obama supporters to view this mess with the same sort of disdain may mean a tipping point has been reached. Liberal legal analyst Jonathan Turley’s column in USA Today notes that this isn’t the first time Holder has tried to deny responsibility for scandals such as the Fast and Furious debacle. But the lies Holder told when he testified at a hearing of the House Judiciary Committee about the seizure of the AP’s phone records as well as the subsequent fibbing about this issue make it necessary that the president fire the attorney general as soon as possible.

Turley thinks Holder has served as Obama’s principal “sin eater”—a high-ranking official who shields the president from responsibility for his action—throughout his presidency. But his claims that he knew nothing about the investigations that he had, in fact, personally authorized, lays him open to charges of perjury. As Turley writes, Holder is “the best witness against his continuing in office.”

His insistence that he did nothing was a telling moment. The attorney general has done little in his tenure to protect civil liberties or the free press. Rather, Holder has supervised a comprehensive erosion of privacy rights, press freedom and due process. This ignoble legacy was made possible by Democrats who would look at their shoes whenever the Obama administration was accused of constitutional abuses.

He’s right about that. It’s past time for Democrats to start stepping up and show that their statements about defending the First Amendment rights of the press are more than empty rhetoric.

The president may have thought he could get away by ordering a probe of what happened in the AP and Fox cases by none other than the attorney general, but that isn’t going to work. Holder’s misleading testimony to Congress about the unprecedented attack on the press is the sort of thing that could make it impossible for the bleeding on this story to stop without a change at the Department of Justice. As much as the president may want to pretend that this is a partisan attack on his friend, that’s a line of argument that is rapidly becoming unsustainable. Unless Obama is willing to get rid of Holder, he will no longer be able to keep distancing the White House from this scandal. While the president may be slow to come to this realization, the end of Holder’s disastrous tenure may be in sight.

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Liberals Are Now Shocked, Shocked at Obama’s Culture of Intimidation

Now that the Obama administration has conducted an unprecedented intrusion into newsgathering activities, it’s dawning on liberals–four years and four months into the Obama presidency–that something is slightly amiss.

For example, the New York Times, Dana Milbank and Eugene Robinson of the Washington Post have all expressed concerns about the Obama administration tactics. They have done so, of course, with a fraction of the umbrage they would be showing if this had occurred under a Republican administration. But at least it’s progress.

It’s late in coming, however, and let’s be honest: it would have been helpful if liberals had expressed some alarm years ago when top Obama White House aides like David Axelrod and Anita Dunn were targeting Fox News in an effort to de-legitimize it. Some of us warned at the time that “The White House’s effort to target a news organization like Fox is vaguely Nixonian.” Yet very few members of the elite media shared those concerns. In fact, they seemed to be sympathetic to what the White House was attempting to do. 

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Now that the Obama administration has conducted an unprecedented intrusion into newsgathering activities, it’s dawning on liberals–four years and four months into the Obama presidency–that something is slightly amiss.

For example, the New York Times, Dana Milbank and Eugene Robinson of the Washington Post have all expressed concerns about the Obama administration tactics. They have done so, of course, with a fraction of the umbrage they would be showing if this had occurred under a Republican administration. But at least it’s progress.

It’s late in coming, however, and let’s be honest: it would have been helpful if liberals had expressed some alarm years ago when top Obama White House aides like David Axelrod and Anita Dunn were targeting Fox News in an effort to de-legitimize it. Some of us warned at the time that “The White House’s effort to target a news organization like Fox is vaguely Nixonian.” Yet very few members of the elite media shared those concerns. In fact, they seemed to be sympathetic to what the White House was attempting to do. 

But what the White House was attempting to do was quite problematic. On this site back on October 23, 2009, we read this

We have seen from this White House Nixonian tendencies and, it would appear, a burning anger and resentment toward its critics. Whether it’s Fox News, the Chamber of Commerce, or companies that sponsor reports that take issue with the administration’s assessments, there seems to be a cast of mind that views critics as enemies, as individuals and institutions that need to be ridiculed, delegitimized, or ruined… there are lines that ought not to be crossed, temptations that need to be resisted, and people in the White House who need to say “no” to tactics that begin to drag an administration, and a country, down.

And then came this warning:

The Obama White House is showing a fondness for intimidation tactics that might work well in the wards of Chicago but that don’t have a place in the most important and revered political institution in America. To see these impulses manifest themselves so early in Obama’s presidency, and given all that he has said to the contrary, is rather startling. The danger is that as the pressures mount and the battles accrue and the political heat intensifies, these impulses will grow stronger, the constraints on them will grow weaker, and the voices of caution and reason will continue to be ignored. If that should come to pass — if what we are seeing now is only a preview of coming attractions — then the Obama administration, and this nation, will pay a very high price. Mark my words.

Like Captain Renault, liberals are now shocked, shocked to discover Obama & Co. have been using intimidating tactics (including punishing whistle blowers and slandering Romney campaign donors). But these tactics were obvious long ago to those who were not blinded by ideology. 

Liberals in the press have been enablers of this president. Now that Mr. Obama has turned out to be a rather minacious chief executive, overseeing an out-of-control executive branch, I wonder if the president’s press courtiers are having second thoughts.

I doubt it.

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What the White House Really Thinks

Much has been written and said about the astoundingly tone deaf performance of White House spokesman Jay Carney during this past month of scandals. The former journalist has lost the confidence of the people who were once his colleagues due to his unwillingness to tell the truth about his own deceptive statements (never mind those he represents in front of the press) about the Benghazi talking points or even to acknowledge that he has changed his story. The same applies to the shifting story he has told about the Internal Revenue Service scandal and when the White House learned about it.

The latest iteration of Carney’s story contradicts earlier ones that claimed they knew nothing about the investigation. Now it appears that the White House chief of staff and other officials learned of the situation over a month ago and actually consulted with the Treasury Department about how to soften the blow when it finally went public. Like everyone else following this story, I look forward to finding out who was the genius who decided that IRS official Lois Lerner should be the one to let drop the news with an apology and also saying she didn’t know math.

But anyone looking for an explanation for his unashamed stonewalling and obfuscation got an answer yesterday during an exchange with CBS News’s Major Garrett in which he compared questions about the White House’s conduct about Benghazi and the IRS to those who pursue the birther myth. In other words, anyone who has had the temerity to notice the lies and the trimming is cordially invited to shut up.

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Much has been written and said about the astoundingly tone deaf performance of White House spokesman Jay Carney during this past month of scandals. The former journalist has lost the confidence of the people who were once his colleagues due to his unwillingness to tell the truth about his own deceptive statements (never mind those he represents in front of the press) about the Benghazi talking points or even to acknowledge that he has changed his story. The same applies to the shifting story he has told about the Internal Revenue Service scandal and when the White House learned about it.

The latest iteration of Carney’s story contradicts earlier ones that claimed they knew nothing about the investigation. Now it appears that the White House chief of staff and other officials learned of the situation over a month ago and actually consulted with the Treasury Department about how to soften the blow when it finally went public. Like everyone else following this story, I look forward to finding out who was the genius who decided that IRS official Lois Lerner should be the one to let drop the news with an apology and also saying she didn’t know math.

But anyone looking for an explanation for his unashamed stonewalling and obfuscation got an answer yesterday during an exchange with CBS News’s Major Garrett in which he compared questions about the White House’s conduct about Benghazi and the IRS to those who pursue the birther myth. In other words, anyone who has had the temerity to notice the lies and the trimming is cordially invited to shut up.

What can you say about an administration that considers leaking stories to the New York Times that make the president look like a national security hero kosher but seeks to criminalize journalism that points out his mistakes?

What can you say about a White House that doesn’t think it is obligated to acknowledge that it has changed its story about these scandals so often that even its chief flack can’t keep them straight?

Jay Carney’s crack about birthers told us all we need to know about any of this.

To talk about birthers when the whole country knows Carney has been slipping and sliding through the lies that have been told about Benghazi and other topics show us the crew that currently works at 1600 Pennsylvania think they are above criticism. They believe their political opponents are not only wrong; they are illegitimate and not worthy of a hearing.

While journalists are disgusted with Carney and even his masters in the West Wing may be scratching their heads about his recent performances, he really isn’t the problem. His contempt for the truth and for those who question his “Emperor’s new clothes” approach to transparency is symptomatic of the kind of second term arrogance that many of us suspected would undo the “hope and change” crowd once the president was re-elected.

Obama’s win last November has convinced Carney and other White House loyalists that they can afford to thumb their noses at decency and even honesty since their still-popular boss can no longer be held accountable by the voters. But what they forget is that even re-elected presidents can’t behave like monarchs.

It is never a good sign for a president to behave as if it is beneath him to acknowledge problems. It’s even worse when those paid to spin him start to act in the same manner.

Jay Carney’s arrogant contempt for the truth stems from the president’s attitude that was on display last week when he had a public temper tantrum about Benghazi questions. An administration that doesn’t believe it should be held accountable is one that is capable of just about anything. But that’s something our colleagues at the AP and Fox News have already discovered.

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A New Front in the War on Journalists?

As I noted earlier today, the government’s treatment of Fox News reporter James Rosen betrayed the Obama administration’s unhinged obsession with targeting journalists. But as troubling as that is, the problem goes deeper than the attempt by the Department of Justice to eviscerate the First Amendment. The news that one of the reporters who had been aggressively covering the Benghazi scandal had her computer tampered with should alarm more than just her fellow scribes. So, too, should the increasingly shrill attacks from the president’s cheering section on other journalists who have been following the stories about government misconduct.

As Politico reports:

Sharyl Attkisson, the Emmy-award winning CBS News investigative reporter, says that her personal and work computers have been compromised and are under investigation.

“I can confirm that an intrusion of my computers has been under some investigation on my end for some months but I’m not prepared to make an allegation against a specific entity today as I’ve been patient and methodical about this matter,” Attkisson told POLITICO on Tuesday. “I need to check with my attorney and CBS to get their recommendations on info we make public.”

In an earlier interview with WPHT Philadelphia, Attkisson said that though she did not know the full details of the intrusion, “there could be some relationship between these things and what’s happened to James [Rosen].”

Like the IRS’s targeting of Tea Party and other conservative groups, this incident illustrates the old line that said just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you. After what happened to the Associated Press and Rosen, no one should be dismissing out of hand the notion that what’s going on with Attkisson is a matter of foul play.

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As I noted earlier today, the government’s treatment of Fox News reporter James Rosen betrayed the Obama administration’s unhinged obsession with targeting journalists. But as troubling as that is, the problem goes deeper than the attempt by the Department of Justice to eviscerate the First Amendment. The news that one of the reporters who had been aggressively covering the Benghazi scandal had her computer tampered with should alarm more than just her fellow scribes. So, too, should the increasingly shrill attacks from the president’s cheering section on other journalists who have been following the stories about government misconduct.

As Politico reports:

Sharyl Attkisson, the Emmy-award winning CBS News investigative reporter, says that her personal and work computers have been compromised and are under investigation.

“I can confirm that an intrusion of my computers has been under some investigation on my end for some months but I’m not prepared to make an allegation against a specific entity today as I’ve been patient and methodical about this matter,” Attkisson told POLITICO on Tuesday. “I need to check with my attorney and CBS to get their recommendations on info we make public.”

In an earlier interview with WPHT Philadelphia, Attkisson said that though she did not know the full details of the intrusion, “there could be some relationship between these things and what’s happened to James [Rosen].”

Like the IRS’s targeting of Tea Party and other conservative groups, this incident illustrates the old line that said just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you. After what happened to the Associated Press and Rosen, no one should be dismissing out of hand the notion that what’s going on with Attkisson is a matter of foul play.

While that doesn’t allow us to jump to conclusions, let’s also understand what we’ve been witnessing in the last week as the president’s supporters reeled in the face of a deluge of scandals that they are trying desperately to minimize or dismiss as the figment of conservative imaginations. The widespread sliming of ABC News’s Jonathan Karl—who followed up the reporting of the Weekly Standard’s Stephen Hayes on the Benghazi emails—by the left is part of this equation. In particular, the misleading and vicious attacks by the left-wing groups Media Matters and FAIR on Karl tells us a lot about the way the president’s supporters view the stakes in this debate. They aren’t interested in winning a debate. They want to silence opposing views.

Liberals mocked Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s claims over the weekend that the president and his staff have instilled “a culture of intimidation” throughout the government that can be linked to the IRS scandal. But the connection isn’t just to the outrageous behavior of the IRS, for which we’ve yet to receive an answer to the question of who ordered the targeting and why they did it. The blithe manner with which the Department of Justice has spied on journalists and the willingness to smear anyone who calls out the White House on any of these manners is a symptom of what really is a latter-day version of Nixonian tactics.

Some may consider it self-serving that even the liberal mainstream press is undergoing what Jonah Goldberg wittily referred to as their own version of the “Arab Spring,” as so many have finally awoken to the fact that the Obama administration is ensnared in a web of deceptions. The out-of-control nature of the president’s belief in big government isn’t just about taking over health care, it’s also about expanding the reach of the federal leviathan into every aspect of public life in ways that chill the practice of journalism and undermine our freedoms. Make fun of these newly-minted Obama skeptics all you want. The attack on the free press represents a fundamental threat to our democracy. 

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Obama, Not GOP, Should Be Scandal Focus

Throughout a long week of scandal, the growing evidence of wrongdoing in the executive branch has buffeted Democrats. Like President Obama, who was slow to realize the danger to his presidency, his supporters were initially put back on their heels by the triple threat posed by the Benghazi investigation, the Justice Department’s seizure of the Associated Press’s phone records and, most damning of all, the Internal Revenue Service’s discriminatory practices. But also like the president, who took to the road today to resume his attempt to blame the interest in these issues on his opponents’ narrow partisanship, liberals are starting to speak out to minimize the importance of the scandals.

The left is working hard to classify Benghazi as a “political circus”; blame the AP for being subjected to an unprecedented phone records grab; or to say the real problem in the IRS affair is that right-wing groups attempt to gain nonprofit status. But while they are having mixed success with those efforts, they are gaining some traction with the notion that the real problem today is not the administration’s incompetence or malfeasance but overreaching on the part of Republicans.

Indeed, Republicans are already second-guessing themselves about how hard to hit the president on the scandals, with liberals using those doubts to help craft a narrative in which the real threat to the republic is an extremist GOP. There are good reasons to fear that Republican hotheads will distract the public from Obama’s troubles but it should be understood that this storyline is essentially bogus. However the president’s opposition plays their hand, any attempt to shift the focus from the administration and the president to those who are attempting to make him accountable for the government’s behavior is a yet another attempt to deceive the public.

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Throughout a long week of scandal, the growing evidence of wrongdoing in the executive branch has buffeted Democrats. Like President Obama, who was slow to realize the danger to his presidency, his supporters were initially put back on their heels by the triple threat posed by the Benghazi investigation, the Justice Department’s seizure of the Associated Press’s phone records and, most damning of all, the Internal Revenue Service’s discriminatory practices. But also like the president, who took to the road today to resume his attempt to blame the interest in these issues on his opponents’ narrow partisanship, liberals are starting to speak out to minimize the importance of the scandals.

The left is working hard to classify Benghazi as a “political circus”; blame the AP for being subjected to an unprecedented phone records grab; or to say the real problem in the IRS affair is that right-wing groups attempt to gain nonprofit status. But while they are having mixed success with those efforts, they are gaining some traction with the notion that the real problem today is not the administration’s incompetence or malfeasance but overreaching on the part of Republicans.

Indeed, Republicans are already second-guessing themselves about how hard to hit the president on the scandals, with liberals using those doubts to help craft a narrative in which the real threat to the republic is an extremist GOP. There are good reasons to fear that Republican hotheads will distract the public from Obama’s troubles but it should be understood that this storyline is essentially bogus. However the president’s opposition plays their hand, any attempt to shift the focus from the administration and the president to those who are attempting to make him accountable for the government’s behavior is a yet another attempt to deceive the public.

The main Democratic talking point this week has been an extension of the same keynote they’ve been sounding for the last three years with mixed success: Republicans are extremists and bent only on obstructing a popular president. The three scandals all point toward a general validation of Republican complaints about Obama’s obsessive belief in big government. But this was discounted by those who wrongly label Tea Partiers as foes of democracy rather than exemplars of how grassroots politics is so supposed to work.

To be fair, the Democratic task of shifting blame to the accusers is easier when Republicans get ahead of the investigations. For Senator Jim Inhofe or Tea Party favorite Michele Bachmann to be talking about impeachment is a bad sign for Republicans. In fact, any time Bachmann moves back to center stage from the relative obscurity her poor showing as a presidential candidate had consigned her to is a not a favorable indicator for the GOP.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich was right to admit today on NPR that he and other Republican leaders did go too far in 1998 when they impeached Bill Clinton, a move that transformed a president who had disgraced his office into a victim of the GOP. That Gingrich and fellow Republican House leader Bob Livingston were also later proved to be hypocrites when it came to sexual hijinks makes that misjudgment even worse. Gingrich’s advice to his successors to step back and let the administration’s bungling and lies speak for themselves is the sort of sage counsel he could have used when he was speaker.

But while it is fair to point out that Republicans need to be calm and factual as they begin the work of unraveling the administration’s misdeeds and mistakes, it is another thing entirely to frame the current situation as one in which the GOP is in jeopardy, as a feature in Politico did today.

Comparisons with past scandals, whether more serious or less, are almost by definition inexact. But no matter what you think about whether any of Obama’s troubles rank up there with those of his predecessors, the posture of Republicans at the hearings of investigative committees exploring these issues is no different from the Democratic interrogators of GOP figures during Watergate or Iran Contra. If some are grandstanding, that goes with the territory and Democrats who didn’t object to such antics when it was their opponents in the hot seat are in no position to complain when their people are put on the spot.

The only reason the media is treating the behavior of the Republicans as a big story in a week that has been dominated by Obama’s problems is the willingness of many in the media to buy into the Democratic belief that the GOP is a collection of crackpots. That’s essentially been the president’s main argument all along as he posed as the adult in the room in Washington even as he did his best to exacerbate the divisions in the capital and fell asleep at the wheel as his government went off course on a variety of issues.

But no matter how much you don’t like the Republicans, it’s impossible for a fair observer to read the Benghazi emails or White House spokesman Jay Carney’s lies about them and say the problem is GOP outrage about the deceptions. Nor could anyone listen to the arrogance and deceptions on display in outgoing IRS director Steven Miller’s performance today without understanding that his Republican tormentors were merely venting the feelings of most Americans about this rather than showing their extremism.

The GOP needs to be careful not to interfere with Obama’s fumbling and give the media an excuse to revert to their familiar pattern of demonizing the right. But right now the spotlight is on the president and the big government he believes in, not those who are rightly worried about expanding the power of this inefficient and often corrupt leviathan. Changing the subject from that all-too-real drama is an exercise in misdirection that responsible journalists should avoid.

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Obama Is Counting on a Double Standard

As the Obama administration seems to stagger under the weight of dealing with three scandals at the same time, Republicans who have been frustrated by the president’s seeming golden touch the last four and a half years are obviously gleeful. While not licking their chops at the thought of tearing into the president’s aides about the IRS scandal, the Justice Department’s fishing expedition into the AP’s phone records, or Benghazi, they’re asking a salient question of journalists: What would you do with this material if it was George W. Bush or Dick Cheney who were accused of lying about a terror attack, infringing on the rights of the press, or selectively enforcing the laws to punish political opponents?

The answer is pretty obvious, since the mainstream media did its best to sink Bush under the weight of the blowback from the Iraq war, the fallout from Hurricane Katrina and the financial meltdown, and demonized Cheney to the point where he became a pop culture villain. While liberals will try to argue that Obama’s problems don’t rise to the level of those of Bush, they know that, as John Steele Gordon pointed out earlier today, the accumulation of woes are about to reach critical mass and doom the president to the same kind of dismal second term that virtually all of his predecessors have suffered.

But though anyone who listened to White House spokesman Jay Carney or Attorney General Eric Holder tap dance their way through brutal press conferences today might be forgiven for thinking this presidency is tottering, the administration’s seemingly clueless efforts to deflect blame may be an indication of confidence that this rough patch can be ridden out without serious long-term damage being inflicted on Obama’s ability to govern or his legacy. Though the media is up in arms over these scandals, especially the government’s snooping on the AP, the president seems to think his magic touch with the media hasn’t worn off. Is he right?

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As the Obama administration seems to stagger under the weight of dealing with three scandals at the same time, Republicans who have been frustrated by the president’s seeming golden touch the last four and a half years are obviously gleeful. While not licking their chops at the thought of tearing into the president’s aides about the IRS scandal, the Justice Department’s fishing expedition into the AP’s phone records, or Benghazi, they’re asking a salient question of journalists: What would you do with this material if it was George W. Bush or Dick Cheney who were accused of lying about a terror attack, infringing on the rights of the press, or selectively enforcing the laws to punish political opponents?

The answer is pretty obvious, since the mainstream media did its best to sink Bush under the weight of the blowback from the Iraq war, the fallout from Hurricane Katrina and the financial meltdown, and demonized Cheney to the point where he became a pop culture villain. While liberals will try to argue that Obama’s problems don’t rise to the level of those of Bush, they know that, as John Steele Gordon pointed out earlier today, the accumulation of woes are about to reach critical mass and doom the president to the same kind of dismal second term that virtually all of his predecessors have suffered.

But though anyone who listened to White House spokesman Jay Carney or Attorney General Eric Holder tap dance their way through brutal press conferences today might be forgiven for thinking this presidency is tottering, the administration’s seemingly clueless efforts to deflect blame may be an indication of confidence that this rough patch can be ridden out without serious long-term damage being inflicted on Obama’s ability to govern or his legacy. Though the media is up in arms over these scandals, especially the government’s snooping on the AP, the president seems to think his magic touch with the media hasn’t worn off. Is he right?

It needs to be understood that though conservatives have spent the years since January 2009 acting as if Barack Obama was always on the precipice, he is a uniquely popular president who has always counted on favorable press coverage. Part of this is due to liberal bias in the mainstream press, but it is also a function of the president’s historic status as the first African American in the White House. Republicans have always underestimated his appeal, and though they lament media bias they consistently fail to understand how it made his re-election easier if not inevitable.

Coming into his second term, some of us have wondered whether Obama could escape the same second-term blues that afflicted nearly every other two-term president, and now the accumulation of scandals is answering that question in the negative. The problem is not just that these stories have legs and are serious. It is that once congressional investigations with subpoena power or federal investigations such as the one Holder announced on the IRS scandal begin, there is no telling where it will all end.

Yet the president seems to still be under the impression that his historic status and popularity insulate him against the problems that handicapped the ability of other presidents to govern once they had been re-elected. Listening to him lash out at his opponents about Benghazi or his aides calmly deflecting blame or even fibbing about these issues, it’s hard to avoid coming to the conclusion that he thinks the double standard that allowed him to blame his predecessor for the economy still applies. He also probably thinks Republicans will take as much of a beating for overreaching in their attacks as he gets for the scandals.

But this confidence may be misplaced.

Though most of the press still despises conservatives and likes Obama–or what they think he stands for–scandals are generally an equal-opportunity affair in Washington. While most liberals have operated from the administration’s talking points on Benghazi, the relentless spill alienated working reporters who don’t like being lied to. But the IRS scandal and the AP story are both designed to anger the media and to create a feeding frenzy that not even Obama’s reputation can withstand without injury. The president has always benefited from a double standard that allowed him to escape scrutiny that was given to his predecessor, but even a liberal press can smell blood now.

Republicans who assume today that this marks the moment when Obama becomes a lame duck may be premature. He’s on the ropes, but not down on the canvas yet. But if the president thinks he can fake his way through this siege coasting on his reputation he may be in even deeper trouble than his foes think.

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Obama’s Leak Hypocrisy

Last spring, Washington was stunned by the way the Obama administration shamelessly leaked information about drone strikes and cyber-warfare tactics employed by the U.S. against Iran to leading media outlets. The leaks led to a number of flattering stories that bolstered the president’s pose as a tough military leader, including some that somehow found themselves above the fold on the front page in the Sunday edition of the New York Times. This caused a furor that forced Attorney General Eric Holder to name two special prosecutors to investigate the leaks. At that time I wondered whether this would mean some in the president’s inner circle would be subjected to the same treatment that was doled out to Scooter Libby as part of the bogus Valerie Plame investigation. But nearly a year later we’ve heard nothing about whether the obvious targets of scrutiny, top figures in the Obama White House and the Defense Department, have been ferreted out as the leakers.

Fast-forward to today and we learn that in a separate case involving the leaking of an account of an alleged foiling of a terrorist plot, the DOJ has carried out an unprecedented fishing expedition secretly seizing the phone records of what may turn out to be more than 100 editors and reporters at the Associated Press. Virtually the entire national press corps agrees this is an attempt to intimidate journalists in keeping with the fact that this administration has prosecuted twice as many leaking cases as all of its predecessors combined.

Without learning more about the case in question, it’s impossible to judge just how much of an overreach the DOJ has engaged in here. Attorney General Holder, who held a news conference today only to tell us that he had recused himself from the investigation, didn’t add much to our knowledge other than to say it was serious and lives were endangered. But what we do know is that although this administration thinks nothing of engaging in such high-handed tactics, we’ve yet to see any highly placed member of Obama’s team be called to account for leaks that were clearly intended to puff the president’s reputation.

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Last spring, Washington was stunned by the way the Obama administration shamelessly leaked information about drone strikes and cyber-warfare tactics employed by the U.S. against Iran to leading media outlets. The leaks led to a number of flattering stories that bolstered the president’s pose as a tough military leader, including some that somehow found themselves above the fold on the front page in the Sunday edition of the New York Times. This caused a furor that forced Attorney General Eric Holder to name two special prosecutors to investigate the leaks. At that time I wondered whether this would mean some in the president’s inner circle would be subjected to the same treatment that was doled out to Scooter Libby as part of the bogus Valerie Plame investigation. But nearly a year later we’ve heard nothing about whether the obvious targets of scrutiny, top figures in the Obama White House and the Defense Department, have been ferreted out as the leakers.

Fast-forward to today and we learn that in a separate case involving the leaking of an account of an alleged foiling of a terrorist plot, the DOJ has carried out an unprecedented fishing expedition secretly seizing the phone records of what may turn out to be more than 100 editors and reporters at the Associated Press. Virtually the entire national press corps agrees this is an attempt to intimidate journalists in keeping with the fact that this administration has prosecuted twice as many leaking cases as all of its predecessors combined.

Without learning more about the case in question, it’s impossible to judge just how much of an overreach the DOJ has engaged in here. Attorney General Holder, who held a news conference today only to tell us that he had recused himself from the investigation, didn’t add much to our knowledge other than to say it was serious and lives were endangered. But what we do know is that although this administration thinks nothing of engaging in such high-handed tactics, we’ve yet to see any highly placed member of Obama’s team be called to account for leaks that were clearly intended to puff the president’s reputation.

Some are saying that conservatives who blasted the president for the leaks last year and who today are decrying the infringement of press freedom are being hypocritical. But the problem here is not whether the president’s critics are trying to have it both ways on the issue. Based on what we know today, if anyone has played the hypocrite on both security and press freedom, it is the president and his cronies.

The first point is that the crackdown on leaks has been selective. While some draconian prosecutions have brought some results, we’ve yet to see anyone in the administration called to account about those leaks that made the president look good, such as the ones about the pursuit of Osama bin Laden or the Stuxnet virus that was used against Iran.

The administration has been eager to employ aggressive tactics, such as the AP phone records grab, that are so vague that the only tangible effect that we can be sure of is that they have sent a message to journalists—and even more importantly to potential whistleblowers—that they won’t be allowed to do their jobs in safety. The expansive nature of this order undermines any notion that the feds have definite leads. Until we see a press conference from Holder or one of his deputies announcing that a high-profile Obama administration figure is being prosecuted for planting flattering stories about the president, we’ll have to conclude that the leak investigations are more about press intimidation than plugging up an unauthorized disclosure of vital secrets.

White House spokesman Jay Carney tried to tap dance his way out of questions about this scandalous attack on the press this afternoon by claiming ignorance and that it would be inappropriate for the president to comment. But the only reasonable conclusion we can draw at this moment is that this is an administration with two key priorities: promoting itself via friendly stories in the press and exercising and growing its power to intimidate the press.

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Government They Love Gores Media’s Ox

Many in the liberal mainstream press have long regarded complaints about the growth of government power to be the preserve of wacky right-wingers who fear being seized by federal agents in black helicopters. But today many of the same journalists who expressed indifference if not scorn about conservative complaints about the seemingly insatiable demand for power on the part of the Obama administration are screaming bloody murder about the news that the Department of Justice had secretly seized two months of telephone records belonging to editors and reporters at the Associated Press.

The story about the AP has special resonance because it comes on the heels of the IRS scandal in which officials of the tax agency singled out conservative groups for selective scrutiny because of their criticism of the administration. But while as far as we know now that outrageous instance of abuse of power can only be traced back to Obama’s philosophy rather than directly to orders issued by senior figures in the White House, the infringement of the rights of the AP staff is of sufficient magnitude that it is almost impossible to imagine that it happened without the specific endorsement of Attorney General Eric Holder and possibly with the knowledge of the president. In other words, our chattering classes are getting a taste of the treatment that had heretofore only be meted out to people that were unofficial members of the administration’s unwritten enemies list.

If some of the hysteria breaking out on the Twitter feeds of liberal journalists over this story may be a bit overblown, I share the concerns expressed by the AP about an infringement of their First Amendment rights in which they rightly say information has been seized that “the government has no conceivable right to know.” But rather than merely talking about protecting the rights of the press, what we all ought to be discussing tonight and in the days and weeks that will follow is whether this is just one more symptom of an administration that seems to think there are no legal limits to its power.

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Many in the liberal mainstream press have long regarded complaints about the growth of government power to be the preserve of wacky right-wingers who fear being seized by federal agents in black helicopters. But today many of the same journalists who expressed indifference if not scorn about conservative complaints about the seemingly insatiable demand for power on the part of the Obama administration are screaming bloody murder about the news that the Department of Justice had secretly seized two months of telephone records belonging to editors and reporters at the Associated Press.

The story about the AP has special resonance because it comes on the heels of the IRS scandal in which officials of the tax agency singled out conservative groups for selective scrutiny because of their criticism of the administration. But while as far as we know now that outrageous instance of abuse of power can only be traced back to Obama’s philosophy rather than directly to orders issued by senior figures in the White House, the infringement of the rights of the AP staff is of sufficient magnitude that it is almost impossible to imagine that it happened without the specific endorsement of Attorney General Eric Holder and possibly with the knowledge of the president. In other words, our chattering classes are getting a taste of the treatment that had heretofore only be meted out to people that were unofficial members of the administration’s unwritten enemies list.

If some of the hysteria breaking out on the Twitter feeds of liberal journalists over this story may be a bit overblown, I share the concerns expressed by the AP about an infringement of their First Amendment rights in which they rightly say information has been seized that “the government has no conceivable right to know.” But rather than merely talking about protecting the rights of the press, what we all ought to be discussing tonight and in the days and weeks that will follow is whether this is just one more symptom of an administration that seems to think there are no legal limits to its power.

The details of the case being investigated by the DOJ are not known, but reports indicate that it may be part of a probe into the leaking of classified information. It is suspected that the planting of a story in the AP that told of a successful CIA operation that foiled an al-Qaeda terrorist plot is the reason for the phone records grab. I don’t believe that the rights of the press to privileged status when it comes to revealing sources are absolute. When it comes to matters that are genuine cases of national security violations, the government has the right, if not the obligation, to track down leaks.

But the seizure of two months worth of phone records from such a large number of press figures undermines the notion that what is at stake here is an individual case of the press straying over a clearly demarcated line between illegal activities and doing its job. It smells like a fishing expedition whose purpose is as much to intimidate journalists as it is to uncover the truth about a leak.

It is hard to know when and if we’ll find out more about this case, but the bottom line here is that Holder and his minions have once again demonstrated that they consider themselves empowered to do pretty much anything they like when they wish to either prove a point or establish a precedent. The irony here is that this same tendency has earned the applause of much of the mainstream press when it is applied to implementation of the president’s signature health care legislation or its ability to run roughshod over other constitutional limits on their power. But they tend to see things differently when it comes to their own constitutional rights.

The AP phone records issue is now added to a roster of other scandals involving the IRS and the administration’s failures and lies about the Benghazi terror attack. You don’t have to be a paranoid member of the Tea Party or an embattled State Department whistleblower to understand that the Obama administration needs to be reined in before they make any further encroachments on our liberty. As of this evening, all you need is a press card.

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