Sometimes the law is simple; at other times it involves seemingly irreconcilable conflicts between first principles such as national security and freedom of the press. In those circumstances it is critical that the public trust the nation's chief law enforcement officer as being able to place principle above politics. Sometimes the Attorney General has risen to the occasion - Nixon's Elliot Richardson refusing to fire the Watergate special prosecutor; George W. Bush's John Ashcroft ruling that aspects of the response to 9/11 were illegal; sometimes they have not - Web Hubbell, Bill Clinton's Deputy Attorney General and "fixer".
How about Eric Holder?
- The record was suspect from the beginning. As Assistant Attorney General under Clinton he facilitated the pardon of Marc Rich, a tax evasion fugitive and large Clinton donor, and the commutation of the sentences of violent Puerto Rican secessionists.
- His first major conflict with the Republican House came with Fast and Furious, the ill fated scheme to sell guns to intermediaries in an effort to track down Mexican cartels - and in the view of some on the Right, to create a call for tighter gun controls. Holder denied under oath knowing about the operation despite it being included in regular briefings; Justice published, then withdrew a letter denying the existance of program; Holder was found in contempt of Congress for refusing to provide required documents showing high level awareness prior to the denial letter; the White House claimed executive privilege for their communications on the scandal. The union for border patrol agents as well as hundreds of politicians called for Holder's resignation, but the stonewall worked. See no evil.
- The Associated Press scandal - in which Holder's Justice Department secretly subpoenaed the phone records for 20 phone lines over a period of two months in 2012 in an effort to find the source of leaks relative to foiled bomb plot which originated in Yemen. The unusually broad scope of the investigation and it's secrecy raised cries from the media who had been largely quiet about several prior prosecutions of leaks which compromised national security operations such as the Stuxnet operation on Iranian nuclear centrifuges. Holder claims no involvement (or "heads up" to the White House), having recused himelf because he was a "fact witness" in the investigation despite there being no record of a recusal. Hear no evil.
- The Fox News scandal - in which Holder went a step further, shopping for a judge to issue a secret search warrant for the records of Fox reporter James Rosen including him as a potential co-conspirator for soliciting a leak about North Korean nuclear efforts, then claiming under oath that prosecution of reporters for disclosing confidential information "is not something I've ever been involved in, heard of, or would think would be wise policy." (Since its passage in 1917, the Espionage Act has generally been used to prosecute leakers, but not the press.) Speak no evil.
Since the Wikileaks release of millions of diplomatic cables, military plans, and intelligence assessments it is hard to keep smaller, more focused disclosures in perspective. Certainly the ability of US diplomats to conduct discrete negotiations and the CIA's ability to recruit foreign sources have been significantly compromised. To their credit, the administration has prosecuted Private Bradley Manning, the chief leaker. In a parallel vein, recent disclosures of Chinese cyber-theft of a broad array of weapons systems designs suggests that the door is wide open. This lack of ability to protect legitimate secrets cannot be allowed to stand, and the Obama administration's effort to hold leakers accountable and to deter future leaks is commendable - notwithstanding Senate Intelligence Chair Feinstein's 2012 complaint that many politically helpful leaks came from the White House.
This should not be a political subject. Unfortunately this Attorney General has demonstrated that he does not possess the personal integrity and credibility to lead the necessary discussion. His mangled charm offensive of "off the record" discussions with friendly media cannot overcome the fact that he has lied to Congress and is unable to manage the power of his office.
This week's video is a discussion by Juan Williams of Fox as to why the right person to investigate Eric Holder is ... drumroll ... Eric Holder.