Can Eric Holder undo the damage?

“Alarming” is the right word for the Eric Holder story. Maybe “scary” works, too. The U.S. attorney general called a 90-minute off-the-record meeting with the press on Thursday, flagrantly displaying the far-flung power he believes government should wield.

US AG Eric HolderA large number of important news organizations (CNN, CBS, NBC, Fox, New York Times, AP, etc.) refused to attend the meeting. Why? Because Holder set restrictive ground rules against the media’s freedom to report, and made it clear that he would prohibit those attending the session from reporting details of the discussion. Holder’s purpose was to spin the wide criticism of how his department handles surveillance and subpoenas of reporters, “leak investigations,” and his overreaching seizure of journalists’ emails and phone records.

So what we have here is the attorney general of the United States, the nation’s highest legal authority, telling the media what they are allowed to write about!

Then, Holder switched horses midstream, “adjusting” the ground rules to bolster his spin – all while insisting he was being “transparent,” even as he continued to impose restrictions on the media.

Holder’s covert intent was to patch up his strained relationship with reporters, gloss over his department’s misbehavior and repair his reputation. But for those of us sitting in the provinces far from the Beltway, our hope is that the reporters who attended the meeting were not taken in and will continue to dig and be skeptical. Too many unanswered questions remain. Given the leftward bent of most professional journalists, I am not so confident they will hold Holder’s feet to the fire.

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Holder needs to level with the American people. Stop with the spin machine that promotes intrusive government behavior as an excuse to protect the state. Holder needs to quit taking advantage of crises to expand government’s power. He should stop stonewalling and finally explain his role in the botched Fast and Furious gun-running scheme, where his people deliberately allowed thousands of assault weapons to be sold to drug cartels in Mexico. How about explaining why the Justice Department refuses to prosecute minorities for civil rights violations, such as Holder’s abrupt dropping of charges against officers of the New Black Panther Party for voter intimidation during the 2008 election?

Holder needs to convince a lot of skeptical people, if he can, that he did not lie to Congress when he testified he’d “never been involved in, heard of, or would think [it] would be wise policy” to build a case for the “potential prosecution of the press for the disclosure of material.” We know now that Holder’s testimony is belied by the revelation that he approved, in his own handwriting, a search warrant for the emails of a Fox News reporter accused of conspiracy in a leak investigation.

All this Big Brother behavior is a disgrace for a man who is supposed to be the country’s top law enforcement officer. No one in the media should face criminal accusations for doing their jobs. Short of serious national security issues, the government has no right to tell journalists what they can and cannot write about. The Justice Department’s attempt to create a chilling effect over the gathering of news that helps journalists hold government accountable is appalling.

U.S. News reported that the president of The Associated Press said that “the Obama administration gathered records from ‘thousands and thousands of phone calls’ and they acted as ‘judge, jury and executioner’ in obtaining these records.”  This time, Holder’s overreach may have done permanent damage not only to the reputation of the Justice Department but to Barack Obama’s administration.


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John R. Smith


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