I recently published a column on how Barack Obama has publicly assumed many of the powers that were once cited as the basis for the investigation and attempted impeachment of Richard Nixon. One of those areas was the Obama Administration’s crackdown on journalists. This week Attorney General Eric Holder appears to have yet again added to this ignoble record. It appears that the Justice Department secretly obtained two months of telephone records of reporters and editors for The Associated Press. This disclosure follows another recent disclosure that the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) targeted conservative groups associated with the Tea Party. Yet, once again, most Democrats remain silent in a type of cult of personality where principle is discarded in favor of loyalty to the President.
The spying on reporters by the Obama Administration included outgoing calls for the work and personal phone numbers of individual reporters. The seizure covered general AP office numbers in New York, Washington and Hartford, Conn. The Justice Department showed no restraint or concern, even including the AP in the House of Representatives press gallery. It now appears that in a few years historians could well be saying the Nixon was perfectly Obamaesque in his abuses.
AP President and Chief Executive Officer Gary Pruitt has written a letter to Holder objecting to the spying, noting that “[t]here can be no possible justification for such an overbroad collection of the telephone communications of The Associated Press and its reporters.” I would be equally upset with the mere fact of the spying as opposed to its breadth.
The spying may be part of a criminal investigation into a May 7, 2012, AP story about a foiled terror plot. AP agreed to hold the story after an objection from the Administration but ultimately ran the story disclosing a CIA operation in Yemen that stopped an al-Qaida plot to detonate a bomb on an airplane bound for the United States. While working with the Administration in holding the story, the Administration apparently was moving to spy on five reporters and an editor who were involved in the story.
Holder would have to have personally approved the subpoenas under Justice Department regulations. However, it is not enough to again criticize Holder (who has assembled one of the most abusive records on civil liberties in our history). Obama is well aware of the objections by civil libertarians and personally approved such decisions as promising CIA officials that they would not be investigated for torture and the kill list policy.
What is most striking about this story is the sense of complete immunity and lack of concern shown by the Administration. That sense of impunity has developed over four years as Democrats have gone into radio silence over abuses by the Administration from Obama’s “kill list” policy to other rollbacks on civil liberties. There will come a day when this president is no longer in office and many Democrats and Liberals will be faced with the imperial presidency that he created in the hands of someone they do not revere. When that day comes, it will be hard to climb over the mountain of hypocrisy to find a principled ground for criticism.