Republicans blasting Obama over the AP snooping scandal seem to have selective-memory disorder. They’ve been trying to nail journalists and leakers for years, writes Kirsten Powers.
Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus demanded Eric Holder's resignation Tuesday, saying the attorney general had "trampled on the First Amendment." This is rich. But there is more.
An elephant sits on the steps of a building in Washington (Justin Sullivan/Getty)
Preibus wrote in a statement that if Obama doesn’t fire Holder, “the message will be unmistakable: The President of the United States ... does not respect the role of a free press.” Let me save Priebus some time. We already know that Obama doesn’t respect the role of a free press. But neither does the GOP.
So, why the sudden interest? Whatever could make the GOP jump on a media bandwagon and express outrage over government overreach in the investigation of leaks?
It was rough—the IRS, Benghazi, the AP phone calls. But the president’s already moving past the week’s ‘Watergate’ to get back to business, as immigration reform edges forward.
President Obama didn’t take the bait when a reporter asked how he felt about the comparison some of his critics were making about the scandals in his administration with those that happened when Richard Nixon was in the White House. The question capped a weeklong orgy of rhetoric with Republicans assailing abuses of power at the IRS and Justice Department, and the media all but writing off Obama’s second term as a colossal management failure.
Obama didn’t protest “I’m not Nixon,” which would have echoed the former president who once famously said in response to a question, “I’m not a crook.” He replied in the measured way that is his trademark, “You can go ahead and read the history, I think, and draw your own conclusions.” For the record, Nixon headed what can fairly be called a criminal conspiracy; some 40 people in his administration went to jail and did hard time.
The fact that a trio of scandals hitting roughly at the same time took on the aura of Watergate says more about the way our media work today than about any corrosive lapses in the White House or personality flaws in the president. “It’s fine to take a pounding for a couple of news cycles to figure out what you’re going to do,” says Chris Lehane, an alumnus of the Clinton White House, who says the president with his remarks Thursday afternoon in the Rose Garden is “out of the bunker” and has made “the pivot” to where it will be harder for the Republicans to use the scandals to thwart his agenda.
Obama swatted away the controversies eroding his authority and credibility, linking Benghazi to his budget request for more money for embassy security, effectively shifting the onus to the GOP, and he made a compelling case on national-security grounds for Justice’s action in pursuing a leak investigation. “I make no apologies, and I don’t think the American people would expect me as commander in chief not to be concerned about information that might compromise their missions or might get them killed.”
They argued. They voted. They failed. Again. A Michele Bachmann-led push to overturn the Affordable Care Act went nowhere, but that’s not stopping anyone from fighting it.
Republicans want the American people to know that Thursday’s House vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act was most definitely not an act of empty political theater.
Yes, H.R. 45 has zero chance of surviving the Senate, much less the president’s veto pen. Yes, the House had already voted 36 times to repeal the law in part or in its entirety. And, yes, there may be one or two other matters on which lawmakers could be more productively expending time and energy. (Immigration reform? The budget?)
But just because Vote No. 37—this one spearheaded by former presidential candidate and noted stateswoman Michelle Bachmann—was futile does not mean it was pointless. No, siree. As the GOP leadership’s office was at pains to lecture reporters this week, Obamacare remains broadly unpopular, and therefore Republican lawmakers have an obligation to the public to keep fighting the good fight.
Meet a hard-charging federal prosecutor at the center of the Justice Department’s controversial leak investigation. By Daniel Klaidman.
One of the lead federal prosecutors behind the Justice Department’s sweeping seizure of the Associated Press’s phone records is deputy chief of the criminal division Jonathan Malis—a hard-charging 15-year veteran of the U.S. Attorney’s Office who is known among colleagues for a single-minded, even zealous, pursuit of his criminal targets. And there’s perhaps no better illustration of his aggressive style than the fact that he once had a caustic, highly personal exchange with Eric Holder, who at the time was a defense lawyer in private practice but is now the attorney general—that is, Malis’s boss.
Jonathan Malis is considered by some to be overzealous. (Mark Lennihan/AP)
It was 2007, and Holder was representing Chiquita Brands, which the Justice Department had charged with material support of terrorism for making millions of dollars in payments to Colombian paramilitary groups. Ultimately, Chiquita pleaded to lesser charges and agreed to pay a $25 million fine. At the sentencing hearing, Holder accused Malis of an overzealous prosecution. “I think that certain things said by Mr. Malis are either unfair, incorrect, or draw inappropriate inferences,” he intoned. “Frankly, I don’t think they are worthy of the office he represents ... Great power is given to prosecutors, and the single-minded focus of some on the prosecution team to get this company without consideration of what I believe are rather obvious nuances is alarming.” Shot back Malis: “I am not going to respond to what I view as the ad hominem attack on this prosecutor.”
Today, of course, the tactics of Malis and other prosecutors are under scrutiny for intruding on the sanctity of the reporting process at one of the country’s most influential news organizations. Members of the media, civil liberties groups, and some prominent members of Congress have characterized the Justice Department’s subpoenas of the AP’s phone records as shockingly broad and unnecessary. They say such actions are bound to have a significant chilling effect on the free flow of information. But those who know Malis say he is unlikely to be moved by the criticism. “I can tell you one thing,” says one former prosecutor who worked with Malis, “he won’t be shedding any tears for the Fourth Estate.” (A DOJ spokesperson said Malis was not available for comment.)
The RNC’s guy in charge of reaching out to Florida Hispanics has bolted for the Dems. Pablo Pantoja talks to John Avlon about the racist immigration report that was the final straw.
Conservatives should consider this a warning sign. The Republican National Committee’s former Hispanic outreach director for Florida has left the GOP and registered as a Democrat, citing a “culture of intolerance.”
Pablo Pantoja is ready to join the Democratic Party. (Carolyn Kaster/AP)
Pablo Pantoja is a decorated Iraq war vet who began his brief career with the GOP by volunteering for John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign and serving as field director for Marco Rubio’s triumphant 2010 senate campaign. He says he was originally drawn to the GOP “because of my business-minded mentality. Fiscal issues are important for all families—Hispanics and non-Hispanics.”
But a recent anti-immigration report from the right-wing think tank Heritage Foundation sent the Puerto Rican–born Pantoja heading for bluer pastures this week. Not only did the paper tally the cost of immigration form at an absurdly high $6.3 trillion, but its author, Jason Richwine, was found to have written an overtly racist dissertation in 2009 that labeled American immigrants as having lower IQs than those of white natives.
Washington’s understanding of damage control is all wrong, says Michael Tomasky. To win, you have to be willing to hand the other side a temporary victory.
Did I, as a liberal columnist who called immediately on President Obama to seek Eric Holder’s resignation over the Associated Press scandal, provide aid and comfort to the enemy? First of all, I don’t care—what happened struck me as a serious abuse of power. It’s rather obvious to all of you that I support Obama’s agenda in broad terms, but I sure don’t support what happened with the AP. And second, no, I don’t think I provided them aid and comfort anyway. In fact I think recent history shows beyond a doubt that foot-dragging and avoidance are the true aid-and-comforters; they always, always, always make these things worse. That, not my recommended course of action, is what’s going to give Republicans both fodder and power. Thus my aphorism of the week: trying to contain damage only does more damage.
President Barack Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder attend the 32nd annual National Peace Officers' Memorial Service at the West Front Lawn at the U.S. Capitol May 15, 2013 in Washington, DC. President Barack Obama delivered remarks at the event, invoking the law enforcement officers who worked to bring the Boston Marathon bombing suspects to justice. (Pool photo by Olivier Douliery )
The president demonstrated that he understood this point with respect to the IRS situation—to Republicans, the most toothsome of the three problems the White House is now trying to manage. Firing the acting IRS commissioner within days was the kind of move Obama hasn’t made often enough while in office. He knows very well how potentially dangerous this issue is for him, but whatever the motivation, good for him for moving so fast and striking an assertive posture.
In contrast, Holder’s two attempts at damage control on Tuesday and Wednesday, his press conference and his testimony to the House, struck a defensive one. At his press conference, he wasn’t sure how often reporters’ records are seized, among other lapses. The next day on the Hill, he acknowledged that he did not submit his recusal in writing (it took all of eight seconds for someone on Twitter to produce the relevant legal language showing that such was required), and that he couldn’t remember the date! All Holder’s damage control accomplished was the raising of more questions that will be masticated for days and days.
Why would a liberal group defend the Justice Department’s targeting of journalists? Eli Lake was outraged at first. Fortunately, Media Matters has now explained.
David Brock would like you to know that his liberal organization, Media Matters for America, “recognizes that a free press is necessary for quality journalism and essential to our democracy.” What’s more, Brock said today in a statement, Media Matters stands with the 52 news organizations that objected this week to the Justice Department’s broad subpoena of phone records for 20 Associated Press reporters.
It’s good that he cleared that up because many reporters were confused. This morning, several of them—myself included—were alarmed when we saw a set of talking points issued by the Media Matters Action Network. The talking points were for progressives who were planning to publicly discuss the dispute between the AP and the Justice Department—and some of the talking points evinced a lot more loyalty to a Democratic administration than to the traditionally liberal principle of press freedom. “If the press compromised active counter-terror operations for a story that only tipped off the terrorists, that sounds like it should be investigated,” said one talking point. “It was not acceptable when the Bush Administration exposed Valerie Plame working undercover to stop terrorists from attacking us. It is not acceptable when anonymous sources do it either,” said another. (When I asked to interview Brock, a spokesperson simply sent me a copy of this statement.)
I know what you might be thinking. Don’t those talking points from May 14 contradict Brock’s defense of press freedoms issued on May 15? Well, not to worry. Brock explained all in his statement. “Media Matters for America monitors, analyzes, and corrects conservative misinformation in the media and was not involved with the production of the document focusing on the DOJs investigation,” he said. “That document was issued by ‘Message Matters,’ a project of the Media Matters Action Network, which posts, through a different editorial process and to a different website, a wide range of potential messaging products for progressive talkers to win public debates with conservatives.”
Attorney General Eric Holder is questioned about the Justice Department secretly obtaining telephone records of reporters and editors for The Associated Press, at a news conference in Washington, May 14, 2013. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)
Will face questions on AP wiretaps.
If this has seemed like a scandal-plagued week already, just remember this: it’s only Wednesday. Attorney General Eric Holder will head to Capitol Hill to face questions over his role in the Justice Department’s targeting of Associated Press journalists’ phones. Holder himself launched the investigation into a series of national-security leaks, and although he later recused himself from the investigation into the AP, he has stood by his department’s decision to secretly subpoena two months’ worth of journalists’ phone records. While Holder has often had some friends on the Democratic side of the aisle, they’re likely to go just as harshly on him as Republicans are.
Holder’s defenders say the subpoena of Associated Press records is, like drone strikes, more efficient and humane than jailing reporters. But Floyd Abrams tells David Freedlander the move is an ‘egregious overreaction.’
In the war on terror, the Obama administration has eschewed putting military forces on the ground in favor of surgically precise drone strikes. The campaign is constitutionally dubious, although the program’s backers say it is more humane, as it means the loss of fewer innocent lives, and more effective. That the drone program is waged mostly in the shadows, and thus keeps gruesome images off television screens, is considered by the administration to be a benefit as well.
Eric Holder holds a news conference at which he tries to explain the probe of Associated Press journalists. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
The drone program comes to mind as the Department of Justice fends off questions this week about its decision to subpoena two months of phone and email records from reporters and editors at the Associated Press. Typically, when federal agents want a reporter to disclose a source, the reporter is subpoenaed and forced to name names or face jail time. That happened to Judith Miller and, more recently, to Jeffrey Sterling.
But like the drone strikes, Justice Department officials say the subpoena method is, in the end, more efficient and more humane. It keeps reporters loath to give up their sources out of jail, and it permits federal officials to track down leakers more quickly. And the surgical strike on newsroom records avoids months and months of high-profile court cases, with every news outlet in the country screaming about the First Amendment.
She left the Senate in January because there weren’t ‘enough Olympia Snowes’ to overcome its hyperpartisanship. Now Snowe tells Lloyd Grove how she’s working to change the system from the outside.
After Olympia Snowe’s four decades in elected office, including 18 years in the U.S. Senate, it would be bad manners to call her politically naive.
Olympia Snowe smiles on Capitol Hill in 2012. (Jacquelyn Martin/AP)
Yet the 66-year-old moderate Republican from Maine—who announced her retirement from the Senate last year with a bitter blast at hyperpartisanship and Washington dysfunction—sounds astonishingly uncynical, even hopeful, as she lays out her scheme to coax her former colleagues in Congress to stop misbehaving.
“The only way to change the dynamic, unless something miraculous happens, is from the outside. It will happen when the public demands accountability,” Snowe tells me. “My aim is to get the public to make those phone calls and get the lawmakers’ attention. Because it isn’t about me. It’s about the country, and how you change the polarizing dynamic that so infuses political discourse in Washington and so impedes attempts to get things done.”
Americans are primed for Paul’s embrace of economic and personal liberty, but his outreach to religious Republicans could repel them.
What to make of maverick Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul’s latest speechifying? “I’m not advocating everyone go out and run around with no clothes on and smoke pot,” Paul insisted last Friday while speaking to a group of religious Republicans in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. “I’m not a libertarian. I’m a libertarian Republican. I’m a constitutional conservative.” Mindful of evangelical contempt for libertarianism—one attendee told The Washington Post, “Straight libertarianism has nothing Christian about it”—Paul came across as almost desperate to establish that he’s not endorsing state laws legalizing marijuana and allowing for gay marriages.
Sen. Rand Paul speaks at the Iowa GOP Lincoln Dinner event May 10 in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. (Matthew Holst/AP)
In a special aired on the Christian Broadcast Network, Paul talked about his willingness to devolve questions of marriage equality to the states not out of philosophical principle but out of political expediency: “We’re going to lose that battle, because the country is going the other way right now,” he said. “If we’re to say each state can decide, I think a good 25 or 30 states still do believe in traditional marriage, and maybe we allow that debate to go on for another couple of decades and see if we can still win back the hearts and minds of people.”
How to reconcile this Paul with the galvanizing figure whose 13-hour filibuster on the Senate floor demanded—and got—an unambiguously straight answer from the Obama administration on the possible use of drones to kill Americans? Or the Paul who warned at CPAC that “the GOP of old has grown stale and moss-covered ... encumbered by an inconsistent approach to freedom” and called on the party to “embrace liberty in both the economic and the personal sphere”?
After inheriting a “hell hole,” and then having the state take control of its finances, Dave Bing has had enough, reports Jay Scott Smith.
After a tumultuous four years overseeing a city long riddled with blight, corruption, crime, and historic financial issues, mayor Dave Bing has had enough, telling a stunned audience at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African-American History Tuesday that he’d leave when his term ends in December.
Pedestrians walk by the abandoned Packard plant in Detroit, December 11, 2008. (Carlos Osorio/AP)
The 69-year-old Bing, a hall-of-fame NBA player who spent most of his career with the Pistons and then was a successful businessman in Detroit had never run for office before narrowly winning the 2009 race to replace Kwame Kilpatrick, who in less than a term in office had gone from rising Democratic star to scandal-embroiled mayor to convicted felon. After winning a full term the same year, Bing tried to turn around a city that has been losing population and sinking into an ever-deeper economic hole for decades, with a City Council resistant to his plans for radical changes to save Detroit and the looming prospect of the Republican governor appointing an emergency economic manager who would effectively take control of the city’s finances from its elected officials. When Governor Rick Snyder in March ended months of deliberation by appointing Kevyn Orr emergency manager, with sweeping powers to modify contracts and sell city assets, Bing, whose frustrations had been mounting, had enough.
In an interview with this reporter last summer, Bing said that he’d inherited a “hell hole” from Kilpatrick. Over the past few days and again during his speech on Tuesday, he came as close to lashing out as his detractors as he ever has publicly, targeting everyone from the Council to Snyder to residents and the media.
Obama looks to government as the first solution. It’s in his DNA, writes Stuart Stevens. And now that DNA is producing rogue genes.
“If the people cannot trust their government to do the job for which it exists—to protect them and to promote their common welfare—all else is lost.” —Sen. Barack Obama, August 28, 2006
Barack Obama walks from the Oval Office to board Marine One. The president finds himself rocked by multiple controversies that are demoralizing his allies, emboldening his political foes—and posing huge distractions. (Carolyn Kaster/AP)
All successful political leaders have one or two very simple fundamental beliefs upon which they build both their popularity and their policies.
For Ronald Reagan, it was limited government and more freedom. For Barack Obama, it is the unshakeable conviction that government can and must be a strong and benevolent force in our lives.
With Obama ceding the stage, his press secretary tries to disentangle separate storylines knotting up into a tale of a White House gone wrong.
The way Washington reporting works, much of it revolves around the White House and the perception that the leader of the free world should be controlling most everything that’s worth paying attention to. President Obama is not following the script, and it was left to his press secretary, former reporter Jay Carney, to explain to a packed briefing room Tuesday why Obama is not taking a more forceful stance to combat the scandals—including one that reporters take very personally—engulfing his presidency. An AP reporter set the tone with the first question, ticking off the controversies now swirling around the White House and declaring that “in every instance the president places the blame someplace else”—Benghazi on Republicans, the IRS targeting conservative groups on bureaucrats, and snooping on journalists’ phone records on the Justice Department.
President Obama returned to Washington from a fundraiser in New York City amid a flurry of bad news about his administration. (Pool, via Getty Images)
Carney did a good job disentangling the various strands, and Benghazi seems to be losing steam with a CNN report that one leaked email was misrepresented, bolstering Obama’s claim that the GOP investigation has become a media circus. On the IRS, Carney said repeatedly that the White House is waiting for the Treasury Department’s Inspector General’s report, which dropped Tuesday evening, before discussing the particulars of what went on. When a reporter asked Carney, “Can you say categorically no one in the White House was involved in any way in the targeting of Tea Party groups?” he responded unhesitatingly, “Yes.” But when another reporter pressed him on how he knew that, and whether he had any facts to back up his assertion, Carney retreated, embroidered his yes with some qualifiers, and protested, “You’re asking me to prove a negative.”
On Justice collecting AP phone records, and only after the fact informing the news wire that it had done so, Carney said the department operates independently and that Obama first learned of the intrusion into First Amendment freedoms when he was traveling to New York on Monday for two political fundraising events. This administration has prosecuted twice as many leak cases as all previous presidents combined, so a tone is set at the top, but Obama can’t interfere in an ongoing criminal investigation. If he did, the Republicans might have a truly impeachable offense. “What prevents the president from calling up Eric Holder and asking what’s going on?” the reporter from Fox asked. “A lot,” Carney responded. “Imagine the story on Fox if that were to happen, that’s what…”
As tough questions come in, the White House finds itself at a loss for easy answers, writes John Avlon.
For journalists, privacy concerns and the Patriot Act just got personal. In two brutal press conferences Tuesday afternoon, the Obama administration caught both barrels from a newly aggressive press corps.
Jay Carney is grilled at today's White House briefing.
Confronting a hailstorm of questions on the Justice Department’s secret subpoena of AP phone records and the IRS targeting conservative groups applying for tax-exempt status, Attorney General Eric Holder and White House press secretary Jay Carney struggled to stay on message, clinging for dear life to phrases like “unfettered,” “inappropriate” and “striking a balance.”
With the significant exception of Attorney General Holder – at a scheduled press conference on Medicaid fraud – announcing that the FBI and Justice were investigating the IRS, the presidential piñatas had little new information to deliver on the expanding front of scandals enveloping the Obama administration. (Word went out just before Holder’s presser that he had recused himself from the national security leak probe that led to the Department of Justice obtaining the phone records of Associated Press journalists since FBI agents had already questioned him about the leak – which led to a press conference where the head of Justice couldn’t answer simple questions about what Justice had done.)
Eric Nordstrom, who worked at the Benghazi consulate on the day it was attacked, choked up during Wednesday's hearings. 'It matters,' he said, that the committee investigate what happened before, during, and after the siege.
Corry Booker’s the hero mayor of Newark, and, yes, he’s running for Senate. By Lloyd Grove
The president’s push for $9 an hour has the GOP on the defensive. Eleanor Clift on the strategy behind the move. But this push could take the politics out of the perennial argument.
Meet the new Treasury secretary, same as the old Treasury secretary. Lloyd Green on nominee Jack Lew.
For John Kael Weston and other men on the frontlines of Iraq and Afghanistan drone strikes raise many uncomfortable questions. He writes on why we need clearer policy and guidelines for these silent killers.