To the Obama Administration Holder is Just a Public Relations Problem

On Meet the Press on Sunday, Eric Holder is heard testifying before Congress denying any knowledge of a criminal prosecution of journalists. “With regard to the potential prosecution of the press for the disclosure of material, that is not something that…um, I’ve ever been involved with, or heard of, or think would be a wise policy.”

The White House seems to be in full denial mode dragging out long time Obama apologist and full time public relations spinner, David Axelrod. Axelrod claimed that Eric Holder is just a victim of the Washington political environment that goes after innocent administration officials.

Poor Eric Holder was asked to appear before a House Judiciary Committee where he swore to tell the truth. He then made the statement that he had not been involved in the criminal prosecution of journalists. Yet, Attorney General Holder personally signed off on the warrant to search Fox reporter James Rosen’s e-mails. Rosen was targeted regarding a possible leak within the Obama administration that the United States may have a high placed information source in the North Korean government. Rosen referred to as a criminal co-conspirator by the Department of Justice was merely reporting on information gathered as part of his job.

The case against Rosen involves criminal charges filed by Holder’s office against Stephen Kim a naturalized citizen from South Korea who provided the reporter with the following information: that US intelligence sources believed that the North Korean government would reply with additional nuclear tests if the UN imposed additional sanctions. That disclosure is hardly the release of classified information. Anyone familiar with North Korea would have surmised that North Korea’s response would be further saber rattling. Instead of disclosing top-secret national security interests Mr. Kim merely confirmed what everybody already knew.

The DOJ took on the journalists for AP and Fox News for negative reporting while leaks from the intelligence community that shed a favorable light on the administration’s policies went without any scrutiny. Stephen Kim is charged with leaking known policy information under the Espionage Act and James Rosen is accused of being Kim’s criminal co-conspirator. Who’s the victim here?

The prosecution in this case is unprecedented. This is not a charge involving the passing of vital security secrets from deep within the American spy network, nor the exchange of classified documents. Mr. Kim worked in the Verification, Compliance and Implementation Bureau, within the State Department where he help develop the Asian policy briefings. Back in 1973, Daniel Ellsberg was charged under the “Espionage Act” in the famous Pentagon Papers case. In that case Ellsberg took classified documents and passed them to the New York Times. The charges against Ellsberg were dismissed. The only recent conviction under the Espionage Act was against Samuel Morison for passing government secrets. In that case the former intelligence official was convicted of sending a satellite picture of a soviet nuclear aircraft carrier to a newspaper called Jane’s Defense Weekly. He had been an assistant editor of that paper and was trying to show that the Soviet Union still posed a military threat. On his last day in office Bill Clinton pardoned Morison.

The issue that pits the freedom of the press against the government’s national security interest has been debated for over two centuries dating back to 1798 starting with the Alien and Sedition Act. The John Adams’ administration used the Act to jail and silence his opponents. It led to his defeat and the election of Thomas Jefferson in 1800, the Act was repealed shortly after that. Nearly, one hundred years later the Sedition Act of 1918 and was added to the Espionage Act of 1917. Although the Supreme Court upheld the Act in 1919, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes in a dissenting opinion established the concept that there exists a “marketplace of ideas” that challenges the arrogance of those in power and reinforced the importance of the First Amendment’s freedom of the press.

The problem that Eric Holder and the White House face is that the Department of Justice has tried to justify the issuance of secret subpoenas of phone records and e-mails against members of the associated press and Fox News by stating that the information leaks represent a threat against national security. That claim doesn’t stand up to the scrutiny of the media’s investigation.

The associated press case reveals that the government investigation into the Yemen-based bomb plot to blow up a American airliner seems to be based on the White House’s desire to control the public relations instead of a concern for the release of sensitive information. Initially, the associated press agreed to hold off publishing the story of the Al Qaeda bombing plot on the request of the administration. Once officials advised the AP that the national security fears were allayed AP said they would report the story. However, the administration wanted the story held back one more day, apparently so that they could make the announcement and minimize any public relations damage from the story. The AP refused and published the story on May 7th, 2012, shortly after the criminal investigation began and the subpoenas followed. A similar process took place regarding James Rosen the Fox journalist.

The investigations seem to be retaliatory in nature since the information released in both cases was not critical to national security but instead bad public relations for the administration. In the AP case the government officials had already advised the press organization that the security concerns no longer applied. With James Rosen’s report the information supposedly leaked was an opinion about what would happen in the future. The only thing common to both stories is that they reported negatively on the Obama Administration.

The important question this case raises is why this administration intimidates journalists to play by the rules that the government creates? That process hides the truth. It creates a chilling effect on reporters. While President Obama touts the importance of a free press though another face, one worn by the attorney general, he tells reporters that they better watch out!