Via NRO’s Andrew Johnson, former White House press secretary Robert Gibbs found himself back in an old position — having to answer for an administration that doesn’t provide a lot of answers. On Morning Joe, Joe Scarborough points out that the AP scandal (and the new scandal of spying on James Rosen at Fox) “gives the administration what they want,” which is an intimidated press corps and a frightened cadre of potential whistleblowers within the administration. Gibbs tries to parse out the legitimacy of the leak investigation involving the AP, but admits that the Department of Justice has hardly bothered to make its own case:
Former Obama-administration press secretary Robert Gibbs said the DOJ has not provided enough of an explanation for its seizure of Associated Press reporters’ phone records, and that “the onus clearly on the Justice Department” to provide a clear explanation.
“Right now, we’ve sort of been struck by the fact that nobody’s explained why you needed such a broad subpoena, why so many people’s records were subpoenaed,” Gibbs said on Morning Joe today. “I know it’s difficult in the middle of an investigation, but I think, quite frankly, it’s something that’s sort of largely owed to the American people.”
Gibbs falls into the same trap as Barack Obama and the White House did in trying to justify this large-scale raid on the AP’s operations. The basis of the investigation itself is undeniably legitimate. The leak in that case came from inside a highly dangerous operation while it was in progress. That’s the kind of leak that can get people killed, and we were fortunate that it apparently only went to a news organization that understood the potential consequences. The AP cooperated with the CIA to keep the story under wraps until the operation concluded and people were out of harm’s way, but another leak like that by the same person or people might not end so benignly. The Department of Justice has reason to investigate the leak.
On the other hand, their pursuit of the leak violated US code governing the process in seeking media records in a number of different ways. Investigators apparently never even asked the AP for access to records in the first place, and they didn’t just keep their scope to the reports who worked the story but three offices involving dozens of reporters and two months worth of records. The US code governing investigators was created in the wake of Watergate to protect the media from the government and ensuring that reporters can do their jobs in keeping government accountable, while providing Justice with ways to conduct legitimate investigations.
Given the cooperation shown by the AP after the leak, these violations are not just puzzling but unconscionable. They are very obviously meant to be punitive and intimidating, attempting to scare one of the largest news agencies from probing the Obama administration too closely and warning potential sources that they cannot expect protection from any news agency. After all, if the Obama administration can do this to the AP, they’re not likely to shy away from doing it to any other organization.