Commentary Magazine


Topic: James Rosen

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 Should Resign, but Obama Is the Problem

A prediction: there will be an effort by Team Obama to rally around Eric Holder, but before too long he will resign as attorney general. He’ll do so because he’s doing considerable, even durable, damage to the president–and the president, well-versed in the Chicago Way, will jettison Holder if he determines it’s in his political interest.

It is.

The attorney general is being criticized, and being urged to resign, from those on both the left and the right. The House of Representative is considering looking into whether Mr. Holder committed perjury (he clearly misled Congress on his role in the James Rosen matter). And in the background of all this is the fact that Holder is a man of unusual incompetence.

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A prediction: there will be an effort by Team Obama to rally around Eric Holder, but before too long he will resign as attorney general. He’ll do so because he’s doing considerable, even durable, damage to the president–and the president, well-versed in the Chicago Way, will jettison Holder if he determines it’s in his political interest.

It is.

The attorney general is being criticized, and being urged to resign, from those on both the left and the right. The House of Representative is considering looking into whether Mr. Holder committed perjury (he clearly misled Congress on his role in the James Rosen matter). And in the background of all this is the fact that Holder is a man of unusual incompetence.

Set aside Holder’s record of pushing to reopen an investigation of CIA interrogators who had already been cleared by career prosecutors and wanting to try 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed in a civilian court in Manhattan, both of which were busts (for more, see here); Mr. Holder can’t even organize a mea culpa with the press without turning it into a controversy.

Now, I’d prefer for Mr. Holder to resign, if only because I’d prefer that a man who misled Congress regarding his role in secretly monitoring the private e-mails of Fox’s James Rosen and for his role in the Fast and Furious operation (for which he was held in contempt of Congress)–a man who is self-righteous as well inept–not be attorney general of the United States. But whether Holder stays or goes is, if not exactly beside the point, not the central issue involved here.

What matters is that we have an administration that had contempt for the rule of law and believes it is right and proper to use the power of the federal government to target, intimidate, and silence its political opponents. That has been happening since nearly the beginning of the Obama Era. Eric Holder is not the generator of this culture of intimidation and corruption; he is merely one of its executioners. The real problem with the Obama administration begins at the top. Getting rid of Eric Holder may be a good idea. But it won’t solve the deeper pathologies of this presidency.

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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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Team Obama’s Damascus Road Experiences

We’re seeing some remarkable conversions occur before our very eyes. Take David Axelrod, who was President Obama’s top political adviser in the White House.

For years Axelrod, along with Anita Dunn and others, led a Nixonian campaign to discredit and delegitimize Fox News. Yet now Axelrod is angst-ridden and aggrieved at the Justice Department’s surveillance of a Fox News reporter, James Rosen, telling MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” that he finds all of this “disturbing.”

“I do think there are real issues regarding the relationship with the media on this leak matter,” according to Axelrod. “The notion of naming a journalist as a co-conspirator for receiving information is something that I find very disturbing.”

Mr. Axelrod’s professed solidarity with Fox News is touching. But a few of us thought the effort back in 2009 to target Fox was disturbing, too – and we went on to predict that it would lead to something that looks very much like what has occurred: the abuse of government power to intimidate people Team Obama viewed as a threat.

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We’re seeing some remarkable conversions occur before our very eyes. Take David Axelrod, who was President Obama’s top political adviser in the White House.

For years Axelrod, along with Anita Dunn and others, led a Nixonian campaign to discredit and delegitimize Fox News. Yet now Axelrod is angst-ridden and aggrieved at the Justice Department’s surveillance of a Fox News reporter, James Rosen, telling MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” that he finds all of this “disturbing.”

“I do think there are real issues regarding the relationship with the media on this leak matter,” according to Axelrod. “The notion of naming a journalist as a co-conspirator for receiving information is something that I find very disturbing.”

Mr. Axelrod’s professed solidarity with Fox News is touching. But a few of us thought the effort back in 2009 to target Fox was disturbing, too – and we went on to predict that it would lead to something that looks very much like what has occurred: the abuse of government power to intimidate people Team Obama viewed as a threat.

Speaking of the scales falling from their eyes, we’re now asked to believe that Attorney General Eric Holder, is “beginning to feel a creeping sense of personal remorse” for his role in authorizing a search warrant that named James Rosen as an “aider, abettor and/or co-conspirator” in a crime. A very well developed sense of right and wrong, combined with the fear that he might have committed perjury in his Congressional testimony, will do that to a fellow.

We’re seeing a variation of this with the IRS scandal. The president and Democrats are falling all over themselves condemning the abuse of power by the IRS. But what they conveniently forget is their role in creating a climate that allowed the abuse to flourish. After all, when the DNC runs ads accusing pro-Republican groups of “stealing our democracy,” when the president of the United States suggests they are breaking the law, and when senior Democratic Senators write letters (see here) to the IRS requesting that it survey major nonprofits involved in political campaign activity for their possible “violation of tax laws,” what you are bound to get is what we now have.

The president and his top aides gave clear guidance as to which properties needed to be targeted and provided the accelerants to get a fire burning. And now they profess being shocked that arson was going on.

How stupid do they think we are?

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Another Priceless Obama Moment

What a perfect Barack Obama moment.

Yesterday in a major address the president said, “I am troubled by the possibility that leak investigations may chill the investigative journalism that holds government accountable. Journalists should not be at legal risk for doing their jobs.” He went on to say he was calling on Congress to pass a media shield law and had raised the issue with Attorney General Eric Holder, “who shares my concern.”

The very same day we learned, courtesy of NBC News, that the very same Attorney General Eric Holder signed off on a search warrant that identified Fox News reporter James Rosen as a “possible co-conspirator” in violations of the Espionage Act and authorized seizure of his private emails. Just a week ago the president expressed “complete confidence” in Mr. Holder.

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What a perfect Barack Obama moment.

Yesterday in a major address the president said, “I am troubled by the possibility that leak investigations may chill the investigative journalism that holds government accountable. Journalists should not be at legal risk for doing their jobs.” He went on to say he was calling on Congress to pass a media shield law and had raised the issue with Attorney General Eric Holder, “who shares my concern.”

The very same day we learned, courtesy of NBC News, that the very same Attorney General Eric Holder signed off on a search warrant that identified Fox News reporter James Rosen as a “possible co-conspirator” in violations of the Espionage Act and authorized seizure of his private emails. Just a week ago the president expressed “complete confidence” in Mr. Holder.

So we have the president of the United States complaining about leak investigations that may chill investigative journalism at virtually the same moment we learned his attorney general decided to treat routine newsgathering efforts by a Fox News reporter as evidence of criminality. (For the record, the president has shown no concern over past leaks of far more sensitive intelligence information–but information that portrayed him in a flattering light.)

The president speaks as if he’s living in an alternate reality, expressing solidarity with the press even as his administration is engaging in Nixon-like actions against it. 

You can’t make this stuff up. 

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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’s Hypocritical War on Reporters

Revelations about the Justice Department’s spying on the Associated Press already had the media up in arms, but the news of yet another instance of the government cracking down on journalists seems to have woken much of the country to the truth about the administration’s disregard for freedom of the press. On Sunday the Washington Post reported that Fox News chief Washington correspondent (and COMMENTARY contributor) James Rosen was subjected to having his emails read and phone tapped in the course of an investigation of an alleged leak of classified information about North Korea.

Following similar action against the Associated Press, there can be no denying the chilling effect the snooping on journalists has on the ability of the press to do its job in a democracy. Indeed, the Rosen case ought to be a bridge too far for even those who understand that the government has a legitimate interest in preventing leaks. The egregious nature of the accusation against Rosen that he was a “co-conspirator” in what amounts to a charge of espionage, along with the government consultant who allegedly gave him information to report, betrays a lack of respect for journalists and journalism. It also shows a willingness to disregard the law that protects professional news gatherers from this kind of harassment.

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Revelations about the Justice Department’s spying on the Associated Press already had the media up in arms, but the news of yet another instance of the government cracking down on journalists seems to have woken much of the country to the truth about the administration’s disregard for freedom of the press. On Sunday the Washington Post reported that Fox News chief Washington correspondent (and COMMENTARY contributor) James Rosen was subjected to having his emails read and phone tapped in the course of an investigation of an alleged leak of classified information about North Korea.

Following similar action against the Associated Press, there can be no denying the chilling effect the snooping on journalists has on the ability of the press to do its job in a democracy. Indeed, the Rosen case ought to be a bridge too far for even those who understand that the government has a legitimate interest in preventing leaks. The egregious nature of the accusation against Rosen that he was a “co-conspirator” in what amounts to a charge of espionage, along with the government consultant who allegedly gave him information to report, betrays a lack of respect for journalists and journalism. It also shows a willingness to disregard the law that protects professional news gatherers from this kind of harassment.

What appears to have happened to Rosen is different from the AP case, in that unlike that fishing expedition that exposed more than 100 journalists to the revelation of their sources as well as invasions of their privacy, this investigation is limited to the Fox News reporter. The leak, which is supposed to have happened in 2009, concerned a report by Rosen that stated sources inside North Korea had informed the United States that Pyongyang would respond to United Nations sanctions with more nuclear tests.

But the notion that Rosen was an “abettor and/or co-conspirator” of Stephen Jin-Woo Kim, the alleged source of the leak, is an absurdity. The Post story said that according to the FBI, Rubin’s efforts to gain Kim’s confidence and to get him to give him information about the threat from North Korea “broke the law.” But the practices that the article described are not the product of a “covert” or “intelligence” operation. They are what journalists do every day in Washington and everywhere else as they seek to inform the public. There is no law against publishing classified information, so the government sought to use the Espionage Act to punish Rosen and his source. But treating journalists as spies renders the First Amendment protections of the press null and void. When the U.S. government behaves in this fashion it is saying in effect that there is no difference between the constitutional democracy led by Barack Obama and the authoritarian regime of Russia’s Vladimir Putin. Say what you will about a dictator like Putin, but at least we are spared having his spokesman claim that he is a defender of a free and “unfettered” press while defending those who spy on reporters.

There is a legitimate public interest in keeping genuine classified information —as opposed to the mass of material that is merely labeled “classified”—secret. But what appears to be going on here is an administration campaign to both chill the press and to intimidate whistle-blowers and others inside the government. It also seems as if the administration is seeking to criminalize the normal give and take between journalists and officials that is the life’s blood of a free press.

But the problems don’t stop there. The targeting of a leading Fox News reporter as far back as 2009 at a time when, as Kirsten Powers notes today in the Daily Beast, the administration was doing its best to delegitimize the cable news channel makes one wonder if the Justice Department was taking its cue from its political masters when it sought to make an example of Rosen.

Another disturbing element of this topic is what appears to be the selective nature of the administration’s war on reporters.

Conservatives were angry last year when leaks about top-secret programs like the Stuxnet computer virus aimed at Iran’s nuclear program seemed to be part of an administration strategy to bolster the president’s reputation during an election year. The memory of the calls for investigations of those leaks now leads some of Obama’s defenders to decry what they see as hypocrisy on the right about their umbrage about the AP case. But the problem here is not the principle of leaking but whether the government is only prosecuting those leaks that did not suit the White House’s political interests.

Though the Justice Department has pursued more of these cases in the last four years than all of Obama’s predecessors combined, we have yet to learn of a leaker inside the White House doing the perp walk or one of the West Wing’s favorite outlets for such leaks being given the same treatment as the AP or Fox’s Rosen.

Once Kim has his day in court (which the Post says will be sometime in 2014), we’ll have a better idea of where the truth lies in this case, though the notion that Rosen’s reporting endangered national security strikes most observers, including liberal pundits who hate Fox, as lacking even a shred of credibility. But, as with the other leak investigations, the draconian efforts to make it harder for reporters to do their jobs seems to be part of a culture of intimidation that runs rampant in this administration. If President Obama really believes in protecting a free press he must act now to stop the Department of Justice from snooping on journalists in this manner. If not, he and his mouthpiece Jay Carney should stop pretending they have any respect for the Constitution. 

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James Rosen on Robert Bork and Watergate

Veteran reporter James Rosen, the chief Washington correspondent for Fox News, is at the center of the latest controversy involving the Obama administration’s treatment of the press, stemming from a story he broke in 2009. Rosen’s insightful review of Robert Bork’s posthumously published memoir of his involvement in the Watergate affair–given new relevance by the current scandals–is in the current issue of COMMENTARY and can be read here.

Veteran reporter James Rosen, the chief Washington correspondent for Fox News, is at the center of the latest controversy involving the Obama administration’s treatment of the press, stemming from a story he broke in 2009. Rosen’s insightful review of Robert Bork’s posthumously published memoir of his involvement in the Watergate affair–given new relevance by the current scandals–is in the current issue of COMMENTARY and can be read here.

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