The Associated Press, the New York Times and CNN have turned their backs on one of President Obama’s top Cabinet officials. It’s no surprise to conservatives, but the true meaning of Chicago-style politics is dawning on the news outlets that have refused to participate in an off-the-record chat regarding press freedom with Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. It’s a remarkable turning point for an administration that, until now, has enjoyed a smooth ride.
Most journalists aren’t going to extend the courtesy of listening to Mr. Holder’s spin, because the man quite simply can’t be trusted. On May 15, before the House Judiciary Committee, he stated: “With regard to potential prosecution of the press for the disclosure of material, that is not something that I have ever been involved in, heard of, or would think would be a wise policy.” This week, the Justice Department admitted to NBC News that Mr. Holder was involved in “discussions” regarding the application for the search warrant used to secretly grab the private emails of Fox News reporter James Rosen. The warrant application explained the department’s intention to prosecute Mr. Rosen, who is ominously described as a “co-conspirator.”
Since Mr. Holder was under oath when he said he had never heard of such a thing, he can add perjury charges to “contempt of Congress” on his list of accomplishments as the nation’s top law-enforcement officer. Rep. Bob Goodlatte, Virginia Republican and Judiciary Committee chairman, and F. James Sensenbrenner Jr., Wisconsin Republican and head of the investigations subcommittee, gave the attorney general until June 5 to explain himself.
Neither Mr. Holder nor his boss, Mr. Obama, are particularly comfortable with the concept of explaining themselves. A transparent administration can be held accountable for its decisions, both good and bad. This White House is only interested in being celebrated for success; anything bad must be the fault of George W. Bush. The administration’s default response to any difficulty is secrecy.
Thus, Mr. Holder still refuses to release relevant material on his department’s Fast and Furious scheme to run guns to Mexican drug cartels so the agency could later blame the Second Amendment for the proliferation of “assault rifles” south of the border. Stonewalling is all about providing as little information as possible in the hope that the public will just lose interest in the subject and move on. The same stalling tactics are apparent in the latest attempt to explain away the overly broad and entirely unnecessary surveillance of Mr. Rosen and The Associated Press.
Herein lies the fatal flaw in the administration strategy. Because Mr. Obama’s lieutenants act in secrecy, news outlets have no way of knowing whether they have been spied upon in the past. Even the most liberal journalist sympathetic to everything the White House does has to wonder whether something he might write tomorrow will earn him a spot on the president’s enemies list. The whole point of the First Amendment is to ensure no president can have this chilling effect on the freedom of the press.
When Mr. Obama was merely a state senator in Illinois, the take-no-prisoners approach to politics served his purposes. Now that the stakes are higher, it’s backfiring. Mr. Holder’s credibility is shot; it’s time for the president to ask for his resignation.