President Obama’s response to criticism over his Justice Department’s seizure, without notice or the opportunity for a hearing, of phone records from the Associated Press and emails in Fox reporter James Rosen’s personal account has been surpassingly strange. Whenever he has addressed the issue, he has cited his own support for a media shield law as if that were somehow exculpatory. Thus, in today’s national security speech he said:
I’m troubled by the possibility that leak investigations may chill the investigative journalism that holds government accountable.
Journalists should not be at legal risk for doing their jobs. Our focus must be on those who break the law. And that’s why I’ve called on Congress to pass a media shield law to guard against government overreach. And I’ve raised these issues with the Attorney General, who shares my concerns. So he has agreed to review existing Department of Justice guidelines governing investigations that involve reporters, and he’ll convene a group of media organizations to hear their concerns as part of that review. And I’ve directed the Attorney General to report back to me by July 12th.
So what is his point, exactly? Are the AP and Fox seizures instances of “government overreach” that would be prevented by the shield law he supports? If not, why is he bringing up the shield law? And if so, why is his administration overreaching? It is after all, Obama’s Department of Justice that seized the AP and Rosen records. If he opposes such actions, why doesn’t he just direct DOJ not to carry them out? Is Obama saying that he needs Congress to pass a law to prevent him from overreaching? Apparently so.
Meanwhile, it was reported today that Eric Holder personally approved the seizure of Rosen’s emails on the ground that he was a criminal “co-conspirator”–this, after Holder made a show of claiming (perhaps falsely) that he had nothing to do with the decision to secretly obtain phone records from the AP. So it’s nice to know that Holder “shares [Obama's] concerns,” but what is the administration’s position on undisclosed seizures of journalists’ emails and other records? Are they for the practice, or against it? Are we supposed to pay attention to what Obama says, or to what he does?
As I said, it is all very strange.