Done in the right spirit, incompetence can appear like sincerity. Don’t we all, on occasion, make the error of seizing the personal e-mails of journalists? But Holder adds some less attractive traits. He is a stranger to candor. On May 15, he told the House Judiciary Committee that he had no knowledge about “potential prosecution of the press for the disclosure of material.” This may be technically true. Rosen was targeted for conspiring to solicit classified material, not for the possibility he might expose it. We have an attorney general who perhaps technically avoided deceiving Congress. A legal achievement, of sorts. But hardly the highest standard of truthfulness.

And Holder’s shifting judgments are defended with unwavering self-righteousness. He said critics who questioned his Manhattan terror trials had chosen to “cower” and lacked “confidence in the American system of justice.” At a recent hearing, Holder accused Rep. Darrell Issa of “unacceptable” conduct — hours before news broke of Holder’s unacceptable conduct in the Rosen matter.

Holder has one particular, highly developed skill: a talent for loyalty. And this is designed to please an audience of one. But Obama’s continued trust in his besieged attorney general has radiating effects. The review of Justice Department abuses relating to the press is being conducted by . . . Holder. A special counsel in this case would be appointed by . . . Holder. The FBI probe of the IRS scandal was ordered by . . . Holder. In all these cases, the restoration of public trust depends on an attorney general worthy of public trust.