The Associated Press “Scandal” In Ten Minutes

If you, like me, were a little hazy on the details surrounding the Justice Department’s peeking into the telephone records of Associated Press reporters, the good news is that after you see the segment below from St. Rachel’s show on Thursday night, you will be up to speed.

Just keep in mind that, especially in these days of high-tech communications, there will always be a tension between the government’s absolute mandate to keep the people safe from foreign enemies and the absolute necessity of a free press:

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  1. Thanks for posting this insightful clip, Duane. I normally watch Rachel but did not last night, my nose being buried in John Sanford’s latest novel.

    Mollie and I have long admired Richard Engel and marveled at his journalistic exploits, so who better to confirm the facts surrounding this interesting case? It’s a wonder he’s still alive!

    I find it significant, thanks to Rachel, that one of the very top investigative reporters is not only not foaming at the mouth over this thing and yelling WATERGATE but actually seems to be enjoying it.

    Three can keep a secret, if two of them are dead. – Benjamin Franklin


    • Engel is great, Jim. And he has been critical of the Obama administration in the past, so he is no liberal hack.


  2. Bbob

     /  May 17, 2013

    The media need to take a look back at WWII. The press then had the good sense to NOT print anything that would compromise the war effort. Now it’s print (broadcast) anything you can and the country, or individuals, be damned. I hope they find the leaker (NOT the AP reporter) and charge him with treason. The AP might then take a look at their own people and procedures with a eye to preserving the country and not just to print a scoop.

    I do regret that the AP communications were tapped. I am a great believer in freedom of the press. But with that freedom comes responsibility.


    • Bob,

      I think you have it about right, although I would be reluctant to draw a strict analogy between the “war effort” related to WWII and the one we are in now. The executive branch, since the Bush administration began the War on Terror, has tended to see everything through the eyes of national security and has used that as an excuse to encroach upon, among other freedoms, the free press. And Obama, who believes his number one job is to protect Americans, is not much different, possibly a little more aggressive.

      It comes down to this: If leaking classified information is a crime, then the government has to have the right to investigate that crime. And if that includes snooping around in reporters’ phone records, then they should have to get a federal judge to okay such snooping, and follow all the other procedural rules. Freedom of the press, like other freedoms in our Constitution, is not absolute. We shall see if the Justice Department acted correctly in this AP matter, but it appears they may not have.

      The press, it seems to me, does have some responsibility to protect the well-being of other Americans, especially those doing our work abroad, but I don’t think we can legally force them to be responsible, unless they were part of the crime in the first place.

      Other than that, we may have to live an irresponsible press, as part of having a free one.




  3. Duane,

    First, I agree that Richard Engel is probably the best international reporter out there. It’s amazing he’s still alive. Anyway, thanks to his understanding of the events, I now know what the fuss with AP is all about. I just disagree with how it was handled by Justice. In fact I vehemently disagree.

    You may have read my comments on this over at Anson’s blog, so I won’t repeat them here. There are so many things wrong with the way Holder and company dealt with this matter, it’s hard to know where to begin.

    But to start with, Holder needs to lighten up on his hysteria over terrorism. One guy with one bomb is not going to bring the nation to its knees. And his department’s assault on AP’s phone lines and records and reporter’s notes was so over the top that’s it’s embarrassing to those of us who believe in a free press. Why the AP lawyers did not immediately try to get the subpoenas squashed, is a mystery to me. And why a judge who supposedly understands the Constitution would issue such subpoenas in the first place ought to reprimanded, if not impeached.

    The Pentagon Papers case – New York Times v. the U.S. – is very informative here. I provided a quote from Justice Hugo Black’s opinion on this case over on Anson’s blog. The Times prevailed and the Papers were published. But Daniel Ellsberg, who stole the Papers, was arrested and tried, as he should have been. The first trial ended in a technical dispute. In the second trial, Ellsberg was dismissed because of, according to the judge, “the bizarre events have incurably infected the prosecution of this case.” (By the way, all this is significant because it was the prequel to Watergate.)

    Anyway, the AP issue could have been handled quietly between Justice and AP and a joint investigation could have proceeded without the need to compromise AP reporters ability to keep sources confidential. Those sources, and others who work with reporters from other news agencies are now going to be a little reluctant to provide to expose themselves, thereby withholding information that the public should know about. Thanks, Eric.

    And Eric Holder cannot “recuse” himself! Are you fucking kidding me? He’s the head of the Department for Christ’s sake. It’s way too convenient for him to “have no knowledge” of the incident when it comes to the press or the Congress. Back in the day, we’d call that “chicken shit.” Holder needs to either man-up or get out.

    Well, maybe I’m overreacting here. I’m just getting tired of seeing what our elected officials keep doing to our country, and, not coincidentally, to our states, pushing us inexorable toward a dystopia that even George Orwell wouldn’t like.

    I’ll leave you with the last paragraph of an editorial on this subject by Jonathan Turley, a law professor at George Washington University, a frequent guest of St. Rachael, and normally an Obama supporter:

    “What is most striking about this [AP] story is the sense of complete immunity and lack of concern shown by the Administration. That sense of impunity has developed over four years as Democrats have gone into radio silence over abuses by the Administration from Obama’s “kill list” policy to other rollbacks on civil liberties. There will come a day when this president is no longer in office and many Democrats and Liberals will be faced with the imperial presidency that he created in the hands of someone they do not revere. When that day comes, it will be hard to climb over the mountain of hypocrisy to find a principled ground for criticism.”

    Time for the liberals to wake up and smell the coffee.



    • Whoa, Herb. I frankly think you’re going too far here. You said, for example,

      Anyway, the AP issue could have been handled quietly between Justice and AP and a joint investigation could have proceeded without the need to compromise AP reporters ability to keep sources confidential. Those sources, and others who work with reporters from other news agencies are now going to be a little reluctant to provide to expose themselves, thereby withholding information that the public should know about.

      Are you kidding me? You must still be living pre-Watergate. The idea of the DOJ nicely asking the AP to reveal this kind of source, or even to point to select reporter’s phone lines they could tap, is bizarre. (Say, what kind of Scotch is it you’re drinking?)

      Nah, this is, as Duane says, the kind of tension that always will exist between the Fourth Estate and the Establishment, and has to for the system to work right. And Bbob has a good take on the responsibilities of the press here, IMHO. In the war on Terror, informants and covert operatives are more precious than ever before, not just for bombings thwarted but for the political ramifications when they are not thwarted.


      • Whoa Jim, I think you need to turn in some of that liberal Kool-Aid for some of my scotch. The press and the government not cooperating? Do you remember the First Gulf war and Iraq and Afghanistan? Not only were there press briefings every day, but reporters were imbedded in many military operations and managed to keep secrets and not reveal anything that would give current positions. Well, except Geraldo Rivera, that is.

        Frankly, I think the AP would be happy to help root out a reporter who has crossed the line. What Holder and his gang did was total overkill. Seems like there are very few who will call them out about it. I’m happy to be one of them.

        Yes, we need the Woodward’s and Bernstein’s and Edward R. Murrow’s of the world who can rely on their respective “deep throats” to keep the government honest. But the press needs to protect its freedom from unwarranted government intrusion and, in turn, protect those deep throats. Otherwise, the press loses it’s credibility and fails in its mission to keep the public informed.

        Of course, if you look at the Judith Miller case (remember Valerie Plame and Scooter Libby and all that mess?) it became clear that the courts and the feds were becoming like the proverbial camel with its nose under the proverbial tent. That gave us a taste of what was to come.

        Now if you want to continue to protect CIA and military informants, like “Curveball,” among many others, who wrongly claimed Iraq had WMD’s, thus setting up then Secretary Powell as a foil for Bush at the UN, and culminating in the deaths of more than 4,500 American soldiers, you can do so. I much prefer the sources used by the news media.

        It seems that the war on terror is turning out like the war on drugs. Lots of people killed, lots of money spent, not much progress. But by keeping the press from gathering news from reliable sources, we may never know how well or poorly we’re doing.



        • Well, Herb, this is a conundrum. Confidential sources for journalists are indeed essential to the process – we have no disagreement there. The DOJ subpoena was too broad – no disagreement there. (Bad judge, bad!) But, the need for the government to protect intelligence sources has never been greater, as this incident shows. A very real threat that likely would have murdered a plane-load of people was thwarted.

          As a mere consumer of news and not a journalist, my belief is that the secret side of government and the press have always had an adversarial relationship and I can not imagine the AP “outing” a source like the one here, nor the reporter who used that source. My guess is that they would take care of reportorial overreach internally, probably by demotion or restriction of assignments. If you can find an example of a large press organization handling such a case in the way you describe, however, I’d like to hear it.

          It’s just possible, I submit, that this adversarial process has played out in exactly the way it should. Messy. Blood, hair and teeth all over the place, but boundaries reestablished in the end.


          • Jim,

            Well, you are right, of course. I got a bit overzealous in my outrage over Holder and the DOJ, that I was dreaming of a more civilized way to deal with this particular event. I therefore offer my thanks to you for calming me down a bit and helping me to see the real world.

            I only have one more comment here, then I’m done. Perhaps you saw the editorial in the Joplin Globe on May 16, “Spying on us” by Community Newspaper Holdings Inc. According to CNHI, “The AP held the story for several days when told by the White House it would interfere with intelligence gathering. But after assurances any national security risk had passed, the news agency published the story.” If this is true, then the actions by DOJ are even more egregious than I thought, or probably most people thought for that matter. Reminds me of the cartoon where Lucy holds the football for Charlie Brown to kick and at the last second she pulls it away and Charlie falls on his butt.

            It just continues to gall me that this country has gotten to the level of absurdity where it’s more important to take your shoes off at the airport than to do a simple background check on would-be gun owners. We are indeed Pogo’s enemy.



            • It just continues to gall me that this country has gotten to the level of absurdity where it’s more important to take your shoes off at the airport than to do a simple background check on would-be gun owners. We are indeed Pogo’s enemy.

              Now that’s where you and I really agree, Herb! 🙂


    • Herb,

      Holder’s “hysteria” was not over “terrorism,” in this case. It was over what he considered to be a serious breach in security that jeopardized Americans in general and Americans (or our allies) specifically involved in secret operations overseas. That, in principle, has nothing to do with terrorism, per se, even if it was connected to some kind of terrorist threat in this case.

      The problem with all this secrecy stuff is that we don’t know whether what you say is true:

      …his department’s assault on AP’s phone lines and records and reporter’s notes was so over the top that’s it’s embarrassing to those of us who believe in a free press.

      “Over the top” would depend mightily on the details, many of which we don’t have and may never have. I admit it appears to be over the top, but until the investigations are over, I will withhold judgement.

      I believe that if there are laws against leaking classified information, then the government has to have the right to investigate any potential crime related to breaking those laws. The question is whether the term “free press” necessarily means that the government can’t demand (or secretly obtain) certain information it believes (after seeking proper authority from a judge) to investigate a leaking crime. That would mean that, unlike other liberties in the Constitution, that a the right to a free press is essentially an absolute one.

      Maybe the press should not only be shielded from having to disclose sources, maybe the press should be shielded from any participation in a criminal matter at all. Is that your position? I don’t think it is mine, although I believe the bar should be set very high for the government to jump over it to get to press records and such.

      As far as his recusal, I didn’t find Holder’s testimony on that matter fishy at all. In fact, can you imagine what the Republicans would have said if Holder, who had been interviewed by the FBI as part of an initial investigation, had not recused himself? Huh? Think about that. That’s what his “abundance of caution” statement was all about. It’s easy for someone to say now that he should have spearheaded this thing, but what integrity would an investigation he conducted, one in which he had been subject to an FBI interview, have had with House Republicans?

      So, yes, I think you are overreacting a bit. And so is Turley, whom I like very much. When he talks abut “the imperial presidency” that Obama “created,” he shows an utter lack of regard for the history of the imperial presidency, which didn’t begin when Obama was sworn in.

      Having said all that, I agree there is no small concern here that the “presidency” itself, as opposed to “the Obama administration” only, has grown too powerful in terms of exercising discretion related to “national security.”  The Congress, through the years, has either allowed that power to accumulate without much of a challenge (the undeclared wars and the failure to test the War Powers act), or in some cases, has placed such power in the president’s hands (the AUMF).

      As usual, we can blame the legislative branch for many of the things that you and me and Jonathan Turley may see wrong with the increase of executive power. Any president, especially one who earnestly believes he is acting in the interest of the security of the United States, will not give back that power willingly. It will have to be wrestled from him by a Congress that, unfortunately, couldn’t take down Pee Wee Herman at the moment.



  4. ansonburlingame

     /  May 18, 2013

    Hmmmm? Anyone commenting herein ever been in the middle of a really classified operation? Or if not, anyone here ever read any GOOD (not trash) spy novels?

    FIRST, what is a double agent? It is NOT a spy from Britain, penetrating AQ. It is an AQ spy in Britain that is TURNED, to report false information back to AQ. Trashy or not, that is the accepted definition of a double agent, one who starts with one “friend” and turns on the “friend” to report back false info. Engels and Maddow should read some good spy novels, etc. Britain, it seems, INSERTED a SPY INTO AQ, a remarkable feat for sure. Imagine the story behind finding that MAN, (I seriously doubt a women could do so).

    OK Britain has their guy “inside” really inside AQ and he informs Britain of the threat. Great. That is exactly why such guys are put there. Eyes on or in the ground I think it is called.

    Next, after being told of the threat security is “beefed up”. Hmmm asks the AQ guy masterminding the attack. Wonder why they did THAT, beef up security? A logical conclusion is “someone that we trust TOLD them what was coming”. Can you imagine the witch hunt inside AQ that would result???? That British agent would be……..

    Well then the NEXT story is AMERICA has the f….. bomb that WE built, (says AQ) Holy shit WE NOW KNOW we have “someone inside” that we don’t want there. The British agent would be double or triple……….!

    Next step, at least from Britain is to get their guy out of there as fast as possible. Go read ANOTHER good spy novel.

    But the end result, is we stopped one attack and got the bomb, but no more “insiders” for the next one.

    Now if YOUR job was to prevent attacks on the “West”, would you be a little pissed that all concerned could just read the essentials in a newspaper!!!!! I wonder how hard it will be the next time to get someone from the outside, inside, of AQ!!! It was hard enough already, was it not.

    I have second hand KNOWLEDGE of “things” we “got” from the Soviet Union, REAL things, and I knew how we did it. That has yet to be printed for public information anywhere and should NOT be so divulged publicly. SOME sources and SOME means NEED to remain classified “forever”. But no, some jerk in government decided to tell AP what was going on.

    Now put yourself in the DOJ hot seat. It is YOUR job to find the leaking jerk, the criminally acting jerk, the one compromising sources and means to gather REAL intelligence, like send a bomb for Christ’s sake back to Quantico!!!! That JERK, a CRIMINAL, did harm to western intelligence.

    And some in America get concerned because records showing who called AP from time to time were legally obtained by the DOJ? More power to the DOJ in my view, now that Maddow has clarified the issues. sort of.

    I STILL have “sea stories” that are true for sure about such stuff, really harmful stuff, that none of you have ever read publicly. Such leaks can easily KILL people. And you want to know why it is so hard to get “REAL” intelligence? Jeez!!!

    BUT, I do NOT blame the press, directly for writing the story. I BLAME the GD CRIMINAL that GAVE the story to the press in the first place. I also don’t blame Obama or Holder, etc. for this crap. I still blame the CRIMINAL, who no one is gripping about right now. And if I was “in charge” I would turn heaven and earth, LEGALLY to find the SOB and hang his ass as high as that of the Boston Bomber(s)!!!



    • Anson,
      I believe your eyes were “in the ground” when this comment surfaced for refueling. But thanks for not divulging the “things” you “got” from your second hand source. We wouldn’t want anyone to get KILLED because of a “sea story.”


  5. ansonburlingame

     /  May 20, 2013

    Cut to the chase McKnight, (and other liberals)

    Do YOU support the criminal informing the press of highly classified matters, in this particular case?

    The press is and should remain an “open listening device” seeking all the information possible and the freedom, in most cases to write about what it receives. But SOMEONE broke the law in this matter by TALKING (or whatever). Just “forget” such criminality???



    • Anson,

      I have made the point that if leaking classified information is a crime, then the government is entitled to investigate that crime. Like you, the culprit here is the leaker. Some liberals have tended to conflate someone who leaks classified information with someone who, say, rats out his boss at the Agriculture Department for banging a lobbyist that does business with the agency. I am careful not to do that, for the reasons you suggest.

      That having been said, there are rules in place to follow. The question in the AP case is were those rules followed? If they were, if what they did was completely above board and legal, then if the press wants complete immunity from participating, willingly or unwillingly, in these types of criminal investigations, then it needs to seek help from Congress, not just beat up on the executive branch.



  6. ansonburlingame

     /  May 20, 2013


    I agree with you almost 100% on the AP mess. A CRIMINAL is at large today, the individual or group that revealed extraordinarily classifed information that in fact COULD have put lives at risk. As well such a leak will further complicate an already complicated problem of getting “eyes on the ground” with AQ and its associates.

    I will NOT beat up on the President for what the DOJ has done, so far (on the AP issue), and as well I have yet to see anything that DOJ did wrong by legally obtaining the records to search for a criminal. More may be revealed but for now, you and I seem to be in rare agreement on the AP scandal.



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