Please, please, there’s no reason to impeach President Barack Obama and it is overreach to say we’re getting Watergate all over again. But the scandals are indeed piling up on each other, or, to use another metaphor, it’s not just raining. It’s pouring. And the message to the nation is to take cover.
First, of course, we recently heard convincing congressional testimony about how Washington had been informed about what was really happening in Benghazi, Libya, before the administration’s dupe-the-public, win-the-election charade of sending U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice out to tell a different story on TV shows.
Then came revelations about some in the Internal Revenue Service seeming to think special attention should be given to the tax status of especially perilous organizations, those that are, you know, shudder, shudder, conservative.
Now it turns out the Justice Department has engaged in what the president of the Associated Press has called a “massive, unprecedented intrusion” into his organization’s operations.
We’re not talking small stuff here. We’re talking about federal snoops gathering up records of two months of calls on both office and home phones of more than 100 reporters in bureaus in Washington, D.C., New York City and Hartford, Conn. This is a sledgehammer swing at press freedom as guaranteed in the First Amendment, but let’s go slowly, noting first that a far more limited quest may possibly have been justified.
Back in May of last year, the AP learned that the CIA had spoiled an al-Qaeda plan to observe the anniversary of the death of Osama bin Laden by detonating a bomb on a plane. The CIA intercepted an IED in Yemen, and that was that. But the CIA did not want to announce the success, telling the AP it would be announced later but that it would dangerous to announce it immediately. AP waited a while, then went with the story.
While the government would not say why it examined the records obtained from phone companies, it had said previously that it was investigating the AP story. It was apparently seeking the government source of the classified information.
The Obama administration has been tough on this score, prosecuting more people accused of leaking classified information than all other administrations put together, AP reports. And while I am myself persuaded far more is classified than needs be, I don’t think it’s OK for some government worker to decide on his or her own that it’s OK to ignore the law in any particular case.
That said, an AP story notes that the Justice Department itself has strict rules that such press investigations should focus only on relevant material because broad searches would intervene with the freedom of reporters to investigate and report. This was an inexcusably broad search, causing the American Civil Liberties Union to talk about a “chilling effect on journalists and whistle blowers.” AP’s president, Gary Pruitt, said the records search could possibly reveal other confidential sources and activities the government has “no conceivable right to know.”
One does not arrive at a more charitable view of this phone record romp by an educated guess that the Obama administration’s main reason for classifying the incident was that it pointed to a still active al-Qaeda.
It seems, after all, that an effort to make everyone think terrorists were not the danger they used to be was behind the phony, baloney trick of trying to make everyone think the Benghazi horror was a consequence of a spontaneous protest caused by an anti-Muslim American-made movie.
You may remember, too, how top administration officials were accused in the first term of themselves leaking classified information that made President Obama look good, one of any number of seeming abuses insufficiently explored by some of the liberally inclined in a news industry now being abused itself.
Jay Ambrose, formerly Washington director of editorial policy for Scripps Howard newspapers and the editor of dailies in El Paso, Texas, and Denver, is a columnist living in Colorado and a senior fellow at the Independence Institute. Email SpeaktoJay@aol.com.
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