Dogged by mounting scandals, embattled 62-year-old Atty. Gen. Eric Holder insisted he was forthright testifying May 15 that he knew nothing about a criminal probe of Fox New Reporter James Rosen. During his sworn testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee, Holder denied that he had anything to do with a criminal probe, insisting it would not be a “wise policy.” Showing a disconnect between Holder and his boss President Barack Obama, the president said May 16 he makes “no apologies” for investigating national security leaks. Holder’s statements denying any involvement in a criminal probes of reporters don’t match the facts. Recent media reports about Holder approving subpoenas of Rosen’s cell phone records “appear to be at odds with your sworn testimony,” said House Judiciary Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Vir.) and ranking Democrat James Sensenbrenner (D-Wis.).
White House officials went into overdrive investigating Rosen’s Fox News report in June 2009 that North Korea was about to launch new nuclear tests. Holder, while telling the Judiciary Committe May 15 he wasn’t involved, asked the FBI to investigate Rosen to pinpoint State Department leaks. “Much like an intelligence officer would run a clandestine intelligence operation, the reporter [Rosen] instructed Kim on a covert communication plan,” said FBI agent Reginald Reyes, insisting the Justice Department had probable cause to investigate Rosen. State Department officials thought Rosen’s source was North Korean expert Jin-Woo Kim. It’s turns out that Rosen’s real source was former State Department North Korean analyst Stephen Kim. While Kim was charged with violating anti-espionage laws, the FBI has not filed charges on Rosen for the same crime.
Justice Department officials confirm that Kim faces anti-espionage charges, slated to go to trial early next year. “In the investigation that led to the indictment of Stephen Kim, the government issued subpoenas, with approval from the attorney general as required by Justice Department guidelines, for toll records for five phone calls associated with the media over a two-day period,” said an unnamed Justice Department official. Holder’s statements to the Judiciary Committee denying a “criminal” probe into Rosen, didn’t ask whether the Justice Department pursued charges against Rosen’s source. Charging Kim without charging Rosen reveals the politics behind the Justice Department’s latest misstep. If FBI agent Reginald Reyes is correct, both should have been charged with violating anti-espionage laws. Holder’s decision to hold off on Rosen raises the real red flags.
Before anything was known about Rosen, Holder had already authorized—with Obama’s blessing—investigating 20 cell phones used by Associated Press reporters and editors. When AP CEO Doug Pruitt called Justice Department “unconstitutional, it put political pressure on Holder to back down, especially about filing charges against Rosen. FBI’s Reyes thought he had a slam dunk case against Rosen. Backing off the AP inquiries, Holder hoped to have the controversy die down. Calling Rosen a “co-conspirator” went over the top, prompting a hue-and-cry with the press and American Civil Liberties Union. Fox News CEO Roger Ailes accused the Obama administration of intimidation for harassing the press. When taken together with revelations about the IRS persecuting conservative-leaning 510c(4) nonprofit groups, the Justice Department shows a pattern of intimidation.
Holder’s sworn testimony May 15 indicated he was not involved in the investigation of the press regarding potential illegal leaks. “The potential prosecution of the press for the disclosure of material,” said Holder May 15, was not something he was involved in. New press reports put Holder—indeed the Oval Office—in the center of moves to investigate the AP and Fox News reporter James Rosen. Saying he makes “no apologies” for investigating national security leaks, Obama left no doubt that he authorized Holder to ascertain State Department leaks by violating First Amendment rights of the press to its job. Now that the heat’s turned up on Holder, the president signaled that the AG is going to review Justice Department policies and procedures regarding investigating the press to find potential leakers inside the White House or State Department.
Holder’s attempts at damage control for ordering the FBI to investigate credentialed reporters doesn’t put the genie back in the bottle. While there’s nothing wrong with ordering a “policy review,” the fact that Holder authorized the FBI to tap cell phones, review records and monitor reporters’ going in-and-out of the State Department, can’t be dismissed. Calling Holder “forthright and did not mislead the committee,” Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) went to the AG’s defense but can’t change the facts. If Holder told the Justice Department May 15 he had nothing to do with any criminal probe of reporters, it doesn’t jibe with authorizing subpoenas for AP reporters or Fox News reporter James Rosen’s cell phone records. Charging Kim with espionage but not Rosen shows that the Justice Department is in full damage control mode, trying to save Holder from the inevitable.
About the Author
John M. Curtis writes politically neutral commentary analyzing spin in national and global news. He’d editor of OnlineColumnist.com and author of Dodging The Bullet and Operation Charisma.