The Daily Beast is reporting that Attorney General Eric Holder is “beginning to feel a creeping sense of personal remorse” over the media-leak cases that have exploded in recent weeks. That insight into the mind-set of the nation’s top law-enforcement official comes from unnamed “aides” in the Daily Beast’s story.
For the story, reporter Daniel Klaidman got more direct feedback from Holder. Here’s how that went, according to Klaidman’s story:
In an interview, Holder acknowledged that there was considerable room for improvement in how Justice handles leak cases, casting the episode as a kind of teaching moment for his department and himself. “While both of these cases were handled within the law and according to Justice Department guidelines,” he told The Daily Beast, “they are reminders of the unique role the news media plays in our democratic system, and signal that both our laws and guidelines need to be updated.” He added, “This is an opportunity for the department to consider how we strike the right balance between the interests of law enforcement and freedom of the press.”
Where’s the remorse in those words? Perhaps conceding that the laws and guidelines need an update qualifies as remorse. More likely, it qualifies as a survival tactic in the face of bipartisan outrage over the government’s snooping on the media.
What we do find in those words is the same boilerplate sentiment that came from a previous official statement on this whole mess. The following words are from a statement released by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia:
Because we value the freedom of the press, we are always careful and deliberative in seeking to strike the right balance between the public interest in the free flow of information and the public interest in the fair and effective administration of our criminal laws.
Expressions of true remorse generally come outside of the framework of talking points.
Another issue raised in the Daily Beast’s piece relates to process. In the pursuit of a leak to Fox News reporter James Rosen, the Justice Department sought a search warrant for his personal e-mails. As the Daily Beast notes, that process is distinct from the subpoena process at the center of the AP case:
Justice officials also point to gaps in the DOJ guidelines to explain some of the more controversial actions taken by prosecutors. For one thing, unlike subpoenas to the media, search warrants are not even covered by the Justice Department’s guidelines. That meant that in the Rosen case, the decision to issue the search warrant was not subjected to the many layers of scrutiny that are required when subpoenas are issued for a reporter’s records or communications. The Rosen warrant, for example, bypassed the department’s Office of Public Affairs, which would have been uniquely suited to provide advice to the attorney general because of its sensitivity to the interests of the press.
Just one question: Do we really need officials from the Office of Public Affairs to sensitize the attorney general to “the interests of the press”?