Political Animal


May 15, 2013 11:49 AM Dirty Hands

By Ed Kilgore

Count me among those who are troubled by the Justice Department’s seizure of AP phone records. Yes, there are circumstances where “leaks” can compromise legitimate security interests (e.g., an ongoing operation to stop an impending act of terrorism) and where First Amendment absolutism is more a self-serving justification for media competition and “scoops” than any vindication of the public’s “right to know.” I’ve seen no evidence so far that the Yemeni “story” the AP broke falls into that category, though perhaps I’m missing something.

But let’s do get one thing straight: some of the critics of the Justice Department’s overreaching in this case don’t exactly come to the controversy with clean hands. Remember the brouhaha in 2012 over “Obama’s security leaks?” Here’s a reminder from a June 10 article in the Washington Times:

Sen. John McCain ripped the White House again Sunday over national security leaks, putting the responsibility squarely on the shoulders of President Obama.
“I have no idea whether the president knew,” Mr. McCain, Arizona Republican, said early Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “The president may not have done it himself, but the president is certainly responsible as the commander in chief.”
Mr. McCain, who lost the 2008 presidential election to Mr. Obama, has been the leading critic of the White House over the national security leaks, which he and other congressional leaders blame on the administration.
Mr. Obama on Friday said that accusation was “offensive.”
“The notion that my White House would purposely release classified national security information is offensive,” Mr. Obama said during a White House news conference. “It’s wrong.”
Mr. McCain threw that charge back at the White House on Sunday.
“It’s ‘offensive’ what has happened,” he said, and he again rejected the idea that Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. should be in charge of an investigation into the leaks.
Mr. McCain said Congress wants to see an outside investigator look into the leaks because the Obama-appointed Mr. Holder has “no credibility.”
The controversy over the security breaches began last week with the publication in the New York Times of a story that included detailed information about covert U.S. cyberattacks on Iranian computers.
The Arizona senator and other leading Republicans have accused administration officials of trying to bolster Mr. Obama’s foreign policy credentials ahead of the November election.

Interesting, isn’t it, that the supposed semi-totalitarian Eric Holder, now being accused of vicious disregard of First Amendment rights in the AP case, was not that long ago being accused of complicity or negligence in failing to go after leaks of national security information.

The “weak on leaks” attack-line became part of the boilerplate of conservative criticism of the administration throughout the 2012 election cycle, to the point where it sure looks like the administration decided to go far out of its way to get “tough on leaks.” If so, that was clearly a mistake, and deserves to be exposed and criticized as such. But let’s also demand a little consistency from those who called Obama and his Attorney General threats to national security for failing to stanch leaks and now call them threats to liberty for trying to do so.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • Wayne on May 15, 2013 12:05 PM:

    Next comes the "special prosecuter" along the same line as Ken Starr.

  • tellol on May 15, 2013 12:07 PM:

    The biggest threat to our free press is the requirement to post a profit.And the lack of requirement to tell the truth the whole truth.
    There doesn't seem to be a whole lot of money in going after Monsanto.The rest of these are fake scandals.

  • Sgt. Gym Bunny on May 15, 2013 12:09 PM:

    Mr. McCain said Congress wants to see an outside investigator look into the leaks because the Obama-appointed Mr. Holder has ďno credibility.Ē

    I imagine Crackpot McCain wanted some group from the more nutwingier side of political hackery to do the investigating. Holder had no credibility because he's just to... to... to... Well, how else is McCain gonna spin a non-partisan nothing-burger as the epitome of partisan evil on Sunday mornings if it's underwritten by Holder & Co.

    Captcha: sheesho nanced. Seriously...

  • c u n d gulag on May 15, 2013 12:14 PM:

    "Tonight's show on Engulf & Devour Media, 'The AP Spying Scandal,' is brought to you by the same politicians and pundits who approved of wiretapping, and The Patriot Act - and wars, and occupations, and torture, and renditioning, and deregulation to the point of near economic collapse."

    Tonight's presentation will not be commercial free - but, rest assured that with the profits from this, as with all of our profitable endeavors here at Engulf & Devour Media, we wonít have to pay any Federal, State, or Local taxes, so the savings, go to you, the public - AH, WHO ARE WE KIDDING!!! - our executives and shareholders.

  • FlipYrWhig on May 15, 2013 12:17 PM:

    The media wankers will positively abrade themselves over the "AP Scandal" without ever explaining that the DoJ was investigating national security leaks. Meanwhile the Republican wankers will be chafing themselves over the "IRS Scandal" without ever explaining that it was Citizens United that led to it. It'll become a circle, ahem, as each side gratifies itself with thinking itself a persecuted opponent. Sigh.

  • Dredd on May 15, 2013 12:26 PM:

    "But letís do get one thing straight: some of the critics of the Justice Departmentís overreaching in this case donít exactly come to the controversy with clean hands."


    Same with the IRS "scandal" ...

    One has to wonder sometimes if this all-of-a-sudden news that concerns events of the sort have been going on for the longest time is covering up something bigger.

  • Memekiller on May 15, 2013 12:35 PM:

    Found this article which says criticism of Holder as "weak on leaks" prompted leak investigations.

  • jjm on May 15, 2013 1:14 PM:

    Sorry for you journalists. But what the DOJ did was perfectly legal under the Patriot Act that the Republicans created. Not to mention that the GOP filibustered then-Senator Obama's co-sponsored bill to protect the freedom of the press even under the Patriot Act. What the leaker did was actually a serious crime.

    Now: the other thing that bothers me is that the big media, like AP (and like ABC re "email-gate") go to the same sources they had under the Bush administration: and though we don't know who leaked the CIA story, the preponderance of 'inside' dirt comes from GOP staffers, e.g., in the case of the emails ABC never actually laid eyes on, swallowing the staffer's characterization whole hog.

  • boatboy_srq on May 15, 2013 1:19 PM:

    One wonders whether:
    1) for the IRS item, someone didn't want their above-the-limits donations to some Teahadist cell published;
    2) for the AP item, someone is on the list of numbers and wants that kept out of sight.

    These scandals just scream of somebody very public, very wingnutty, and very nervous, getting caught in the dragnet along with the small fry.

    Captcha: ontonOt honest. Truly.

  • lola on May 15, 2013 1:31 PM:

    Cool post! Thanks for this!

  • LAC on May 15, 2013 1:36 PM:

    I love that the comments here are not giving a big pity handy to the poor, pretty put upon media.

  • grandpa john on May 15, 2013 1:42 PM:

    Ah the usual hilarity ensues. Senile Johnny , who lies in every statement he makes, has absolutely no credibility on any thing that comes from his mouth

  • MoreBetter on May 15, 2013 4:48 PM:

    Why are you troubled by this? The administration got subpeonas (unlike the previous administartion) to get phone logs (not actual recordings like the previous administration) to find out how these leaks (that are keeping Al Quada informed on all of our tactics and their levels of success) are getting out to news organization that is more concerned about making money that saving lives. People are going to die because of these leaks. You should be troubled about that.