Commentary Magazine


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.

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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