Really? Naming a well-known Washington reporter as a co-conspirator in espionage in order to gain unlimited access to his e-mail and phone records is a core responsibility of the Attorney General? Heck, not even Eric Holder supported that argument, either on May 15th in Congressional testimony that may result in a perjury charge or in his off-the-meeting record yesterday, which Holder hopes will let him off the hook. Right on time, here comes Barack Obama’s chief political strategist to tell us that there’s nothing to see here and we should all move along:

MSNBC contributor and former Obama advisor David Axelrod said embattled Attorney General Eric Holder was “carrying out his responsibilities” in the James Rosen case and should not resign on Friday’s Morning Joe, three days after calling the naming of the Fox News correspondent as a criminal co-conspirator by the Justice Department “disturbing.” …

“I don’t think what Eric Holder did, anything that he did was, you know, against … This notion that somehow he had, you know, criminal, that we should have a prosecutorial look at this,” Axelrod said.

Holder told Congress May 15 he would not support prosecution the press to force information disclosure, but reports soon emerged that he personally vetted search warrants for Rosen’s email and phone records to uncover a leak of information about North Korea’s nuclear program.

Axelrod is either confused or trying to confuse the issue.  There is a question about the legality of the warrant, but that’s because Holder directly contradicted the claim he approved in it when he testified before Congress two weeks ago.  Not only did he say he wouldn’t support “potential” prosecution of reporters under the Espionage Act of 1917, he told Congress — under oath — that “This is not something I’ve ever been involved in, heard of[.]”  Not only did his signature on that 2010 warrant application prove that statement utterly false, Holder’s defense — that Rosen was never seriously considered a target — might put Holder in serious jeopardy of perjury over the warrant application, too.

The Department of Justice has decided to broaden its public defense of its boss, sensing the danger:

“The Attorney General’s testimony concerning the potential prosecution of a member of the press was accurate and consistent with the facts of the Kim case,” a DOJ spokesperson said Thursday night after Holder met with news media executives to discuss possible changes to laws and policies regarding investigations that relate to the press. “At no time during the leak case involving Stephen Kim, before or after the FBI sought the search warrant, have prosecutors sought approval to bring criminal charges against the reporter.”

“The search warrant application in the Kim matter was focused on obtaining evidence relating to allegations that a government official had leaked highly classified information, which was a threat to our national security.  The warrant application was drafted during the investigation phase of the case, which came before any decisions about prosecution.  And nearly three years after completing our thorough investigation of thKim matter, the Department does not anticipate bringing any additional charges,” the spokesperson continued. “During the Attorney General’s tenure, no reporter has ever been prosecuted.”

“As the Attorney General has stated, the Department is committed to striking a balance between protecting classified national security information and protecting the first amendment rights of journalists to gather and report the news.  The Department appreciates the opportunity in the coming days and weeks to engage with media representatives to discuss ways in which our processes may be improved,” the spokesperson added.

Dylan Byers explains why this doesn’t work:

The challenge for Justice Department officials defending Holder’s comments is the very sweep of his statement at the May 15 hearing, where he said he’d never even remotely contemplated prosecuting a journalist. He seemed to suggest such an idea was completey foreign and bizarre to him—a public impression that many view as undercut by his signing off on paperwork that labeled Rosen a lawbreaker who could legitimately be arrested by authorities if they so chose.

It’s important to remember why Holder named Rosen as a potential co-conspirator in that warrant application, too.  Without that argument, a judge would never have allowed the unlimited snooping on Rosen’s communications that Justice sought.  They would have had to follow the statutes erected by Congress in the wake of Watergate to protect reporters from executive-branch abuses of power.  The naming of Rosen as a prosecution target allowed Justice to get around that statute — and it still took three judges to approve that application even under those circumstances.  If the defense now is that Rosen was never a prosecutorial target, then the warrant application is a lie, and Holder has to answer for that perjury, too.

I’d say that went far beyond “carrying out his responsibilities” for Holder, and squarely into the abuse-of-power realm.  And that’s separate from the perjury charges that Holder should be facing in this case.  Axelrod is going far beyond his responsibilities, too, in spinning and water-carrying on Holder’s behalf.

Update: “Phone responsibilities” in the first paragraph was supposed to be “phone records.” I’ve fixed it, and thanks to Pain Train for the correction.