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.
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?
You do the math.
A sense of shame does not seem to be a factor here. In what has become as predictable as the sunrise, Holder was up on the Hill this week, being lectured by Republican members of Congress who have wanted him fired since the day he was sworn in. GOP Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin grilled Holder over the AP debacle, saying he wanted to "pin down" who authorized the subpoenas that yielded the AP records. When Holder explained he was recused from discussing the matter for legal reasons, Sensenbrenner nonsensically suggested that Holder go to the Truman Museum and "take a picture of the thing on his desk that said 'the buck stops here.'"
Sadly, no recent occupant of the White House has been more aggressive in persecuting whistleblowers than President Transparency. Nonetheless, prior to their newfound concern for a free press, the GOP was just last year attacking President Obama for an imagined lack of zeal in pursuing leaks. John McCain even wanted a special counsel outside the Justice Department appointed to investigate national-security leaks about Obama’s “kill list,” a story about which ended up in The New York Times. The “kill list” strangely wasn’t the problem for the GOP. The leaks were.
At a 2012 hearing in which the GOP tried to ascertain whether it could prosecute reporters, Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC) suggested that the U.S. attorneys subpoena journalists and demand they reveal sources that provided classified information. Gowdy said: "Put [reporters] in front of the grand jury. You either answer the question or you're going to be held in contempt and go to jail, which is what I thought all reporters aspire to do anyway. I thought that was the crown jewel of the reporter's résumé to actually go to jail protecting a source." When your baseline belief is that reporters like to go to jail, let’s just dispense with the fiction that you care about a free media.
When The Washington Post’s Dana Priest revealed in 2005 that the Bush administration had secret prisons, conservatives went nuts. Then-speaker J. Dennis Hastert and then–Senate majority leader Bill Frist sent the chairmen of the intelligence committees a request to launch a joint investigation to find the whistleblowers. It was the leaks, not the existence of secret prisons and “black sites,” that so offended their delicate sensibilities.
Upon learning that three journalists—including Priest—received Pulitzer Prizes for their national-security reporting, conservative stalwart Bill Bennett said on his radio show that they were not “worthy of an award” but rather “worthy of jail.” On Meet the Press he asserted that the reporters should be threatened and, if they didn’t give up their sources, sent to jail. Regarding the whistleblowers, he said, “We need to get after those people, and one way to get after those people is to talk to the reporters with whom they spoke.”
In a column in The Washington Times, Jeffrey T. Kuhner suggested that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange should be assassinated because he “undermines the war on terror.” In the wake of the charges against Pvt. Bradley Manning for leaking info to Assange, Rep. Mike Rogers (R-MI) told a radio host the death penalty should be considered and criticized a “culture of disclosure."
Democrats aren’t going to win any awards for standing up against government overreach and persecution of whistleblowers under the Obama administration. But neither are Republicans, no matter how much some might like to rewrite history.