On the record, time to fire Holder

Embattled Attorney General Eric Holder isn’t receiving much media love these days, even from news organizations that have typically been big boosters of the Obama administration.

His latest gaffe certainly deserves media wrath.

Holder sought meetings with the Washington Bureau chiefs of several major news organizations this week to discuss his deteriorating relationship with the press and how the Justice Department can deal with government leaks without trampling on the First Amendment.

But here’s the kicker: Holder wanted all these discussions about the free press and his department to be off the record, meaning no reporting allowed. Let’s just keep this between us and not let the riffraff public know what we’re discussing.

Let’s not. Most of the media organizations he contacted rebelled at the suggestion. We hope even more will join us and other media voices in calling for Holder’s dismissal.

The notion that government and media officials should discuss the First Amendment and freedom of the press in secrecy is as antithetical to the subject at hand as possible.

We were pleased to learn that many news organizations refused to participate under those terms, including The New York Times, Associated Press, CNN, Fox News and Huffington Post.

All of this transpired, of course, because of recent news that the Justice Department had secretly obtained subpoenas to examine the phone records of several Associated Press reporters and one reporter for Fox News, all in the name of allegedly trying to plug leaks of classified information.

The subpoena for Fox News reporter James Rosen went so far as to include his parents’ phone records and to name Rosen as a possible co-conspirator in a federal espionage case.

Holder has done little to endear himself to the media or Congress in all of this. He denied any personal knowledge of the AP subpoena and told members of Congress that he had never considered prosecuting journalists under the federal Espionage Act. But that statement was contradicted when it was learned he personally signed the subpoena in the Rosen case.

Every news organization, including The Daily Sentinel, occasionally agrees to off-the-record discussions with public officials. In most cases, they are constrained to very limited events related to a few specific topics.

It is extremely rare that news organizations would allow entire meetings about one of the most important features of our Constitution, and the government’s controversial handling of that feature, to be conducted in secret. News entities, after all, have both a public responsibility and a business interest in reporting on such matters to their readers and viewers.

In trying to make up with the media, Holder once again revealed his own — and the Obama administration’s — fundamental misunderstanding of what it means to have a free press and a transparent government.

This week’s ham-handed Holder move is one more reason the president should fire his attorney general.


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When the Senate confirmed Eric Holder, he became the most qualified Attorney General in U.S. history.  Appointed to the bench by Ronald Reagan and serving as Acting AG under George Bush, his credentials both as a prosecutor and judge were unimpeachable.

However, when Holder dutifully challenged Arizona’s “papers please” immigration law, he became an anathema to the virulent right (incited by the NRA) – which branded him as “the most corrupt Attorney General” in our history, while conveniently overlooking the genuinely “corrupt” legacy of his Republican predecessors.

Darrel Issa then tried to blame Holder for the “Fast and Furious” operation – which he unknowingly inherited from Republican Michael Mukasey (who failed to mention it). 

When Holder invoked the Voting Rights Act to oppose Republican voter suppression efforts in Texas, South Carolina, and Florida, Issa’s “oversight” committee held him in contempt of Congress—even after Holder provided over 1000 documents and President Obama invoked Executive Privilege to abbreviate Issa’s pointless partisan circus.

Thus, while there may be as-yet-unreleased information justifying Holder’s departure, nothing in the Sentinel’s editorial (“On the record, time to fire Holder”, May 31, 2013) remotely supports that pandering conclusion.

While senior officials routinely brief news editors “off the record” – thereby providing an informed context without precluding further reporting and/or Congressional testimony – Holder has become the media’s “scapegoat” for the fundamental conflict between the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, the post-9/11 “USA Patriot Act”, and the rights of a Free Press, as guaranteed by the First Amendment.

As AG, Holder is sworn to enforce all those laws – and nothing therein exempts the press from criminal liability in the context of national security leaks.  Nevertheless, even as the Sentinel flails aimlessly, Holder has ordered a review of DOJ investigative guidelines – including revisions offered by the press and FBI in 2004, but rejected by the “Bushies”.

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