In engaging in sweeping surveillance of the Associated Press, the Obama administration has engaged in behavior no other administration in recent memory has attempted. There are many questions about this episode, including:
1. Why did Attorney General Eric Holder recuse himself? Was he under investigation (he said he was questioned, but if he had no connection, why did he remove himself)? Did he have some conflict of interest? (If he can’t investigate the executive branch, then why is he probing the Internal Revenue Service?)
2. Did Holder not know the surveillance was going on?
3. Why was Deputy Attorney General James Cole not recused if his boss was?
4. Did Cole inform anyone else, or did a deputy attorney general take it upon himself with no oversight to order such a massive invasion of reporters’ privacy?
5. What court did they persuade to allow the tapping, and what did the administration say to garner a warrant?
6. Does the president and/or attorney general now think it was inappropriate, and, if so, will anyone be fired?
7. Did the government find anything, or was this a wild goose chase?
8. In this exhaustive investigation of executive-branch leaking, were the president, national security adviser and other top officials interviewed?
9. Does the administration intend to prosecute members of the press?
10. Will the administration pledge not to do this again?
The irony is that the Bush administration had every reason to conduct exhaustive investigations of the New York Times, which repeatedly revealed classified information about, for example, the Patriot Act and the methods and procedures used to track international calls. Whether you agree or not with that decision, the Bush administration showed far more restraint and respect for civil liberties than has the Obama administration. And yet, we don’t even know if the president regrets the spying operation.
The press can be self-serving, but, in this case, the media have every right to be outraged and demand a full accounting from the administration. In its actions, the administration has shown contempt for the First Amendment and for the public’s right to know.