Eric Holder Was The Worst Attorney General For The Press In A Generation: We Deserve Better

from the but-will-we-get-it dept

Attorney General Eric Holder announced he would resign yesterday, after serving as the nation’s top law enforcement official since President Obama came into office in 2009. Holder will leave behind a complex and hotly debated legacy at the Justice Department on many issues, but one thing is clear: he was the worst Attorney General on press freedom issues in a generation, possibly since Richard Nixon’s John Mitchell pioneered the subpoenaing of reporters and attempted to censor the Pentagon Papers.

Holder presided over the largest legal crackdown on journalists’ sources in American history. Under his watch, the Justice Department prosecuted more sources and whistleblowers under the Espionage Act than all previous administrations combined, and many of those cases directly led to surveillance of reporters. In one, the Justice Department secretly subpoenaed twenty Associated Press phone lines, gathering information on over one hundred AP reporters. In another, the Justice Department accused Fox News reporter James Rosen in court documents of being a “co-conspirator” and “aiding and abetting” State Department employee Stephen Kim in violating the Espionage Act. Both moves by the Justice Department were personally approved by the Attorney General.

After a loud public backlash, the Justice Department recently tightened its media guidelines, but that hasn’t stopped them from attempting to force one of the nation’s best national security reporters, New York Times’ James Risen, into jail for refusing to testify against an alleged source. In Risen’s case, the Justice Department caused the most damage to reporter’s privilege in decades when it convinced the Fourth Circuit to do away with the privilege in its jurisdiction altogether. Shamefully, Holder’s Justice Department argued in front of the Court of Appeals that not only did Risen not qualify for reporter’s privilege, but the privilege did not exist at all, literally comparing reporters who protect sources who tell them about sensitive information to receiving drugs from a drug dealer and refusing to talk about it.

Despite all this, Eric Holder had previously promised that, “As long as I’m attorney general, no reporter who is doing his job is going to go to jail.” How the Justice Department could pursue contempt of court charges against Risen but keep him out of jail was unknown. But now that Holder is stepping down, the Justice Department is not obligated to abide by his promise.

The Justice Department’s pursuit of Risen has led to a petition signed by over 100,000 citizens, and over twenty Pulitzer Prize winners issued statements condemning it. The Justice Department has still refused to drop its pursuit.

And often forgotten in the Justice Department’s awful crackdown on the press, is its sprawling, four-year grand jury investigation into WikiLeaks for publishing classified State and Defense Department documents in 2010 and 2011, under a “conspiracy to commit espionage” theory where WikiLeaks may or may not have asked source Chelsea Manning to send them the documents. Many have referred to it as the largest investigation of a publisher in American history.

Despite the fact that the investigation has been widely condemned by legal experts and Constitutional scholars—former Times general counsel James Goodale said Holder might as well be investigating WikiLeaks for “a conspiracy to commit journalism”—recent court documents show the grand jury is still active.

Any indictment would leave all US newspapers in the perilous position of constantly under threat of prosecution when publishing supposedly “secret” information. But even without an indictment, the open-ended investigation chills WikiLeaks’ work and anyone caught in its wide net.

In addition, the Justice Department's handling of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and its aggressive tactics in court to keep basic information from journalists and the public has been deplorable, especially given Holder's promise to reform FOIA when he first came into office. Holder is also attempting to expand the controversial 'state secrets' privilege to new lengths, after promising to reform that as well.

The next attorney general, whoever it is, will have a lot of issues on his or her plate. But better respecting the rights of reporters and the First Amendment should be at the top of that list.

Reposted from the Freedom of the Press Foundation

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Filed Under: attorney general, eric holder, journalism, press freedom


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  • identicon
    vic-vic, 26 Sep 2014 @ 12:55pm

    Beware my friends.

    People of Ukraine also thought it just can't be worse than previous president. NOW they want their current administration to be gunned down

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    bush effect, 26 Sep 2014 @ 2:53pm

    When you don't think it can get worse it does

    In the majority house and senate and presidency that the GOP is going to engineer, things are going to get much much worse and you will miss the halcyon days of massive invasion of privacy, arrest without charge and Gitmo

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 26 Sep 2014 @ 4:43pm

      Re: When you don't think it can get worse it does

      At this point, I'd barely be surprised if the next AG was the reanimated corpse of Adolf Hitler. Maybe the difference between Candidate Obama and President Obama was reading the Necronomicon.
      Or, comedy option: Zoe Quinn.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        David, 26 Sep 2014 @ 10:42pm

        Re: Re: When you don't think it can get worse it does

        It would violate separation of powers if Obama became Attorney General as well.

        They'll have to do with someone like Freisler.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 28 Sep 2014 @ 12:46am

        Re: Re: When you don't think it can get worse it does

        so, basically, what your trying to say is, a step upwards

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      bush effect, 26 Sep 2014 @ 5:33pm

      Re: When you don't think it can get worse it does

      I am slightly amazed at the tea tards in this thread, seriously your government IS the problem, it should be watered by the blood of patriots to continue an oligarchical, roman Republic because that IS what the founding father though they where building, it's immoral, unethical and sick, but that IS what they though they where building and it's almost there, there a just a few million people to die, well hundred million or three to die, but lets not quibble over number...

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 26 Sep 2014 @ 6:18pm

      Re: When you don't think it can get worse it does

      Can it get worse? How do you suppose the republicans will do worse? Obama has doubled Bush's soending and has 2 years left. He is starting new wars. He lies everytime he opens his mouth. How can it get worse?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        OldMugwump (profile), 26 Sep 2014 @ 7:15pm

        Re: How can it get worse?

        It can get worse. It can always get worse while any of us are still left alive.

        Clinton was worse than Bush I.
        Bush II was worse than Clinton.
        Obama is worse than Bush II.

        I had nothing but disgust for Clinton while he was in office; in retrospect he looks like a paragon of virtue.

        There is nothing preventing the situation under Obama's successor from being worse yet. (GOP or otherwise.)

        It is not foredoomed, but unless the American public accepts that the status quo isn't working and starts electing different types of leaders (and not just Presidents), it will get worse.

        And yes, we may then "miss the halcyon days of massive invasion of privacy, arrest without charge and Gitmo" under Obama.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Scott (profile), 27 Sep 2014 @ 1:15pm

        Re: Re: When you don't think it can get worse it does

        Actually, everything you stated in that comment is provably false...dont you have some bridge to hide under?

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 27 Sep 2014 @ 4:14pm

          Re: Re: Re: When you don't think it can get worse it does

          Love how you make a statement without backing it up. So the deficit is provabky false? I didnt even list all the ills he is responsinle for.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    stryx, 26 Sep 2014 @ 3:17pm

    Holder's Legacy

    The Justice Dept. also killed Aaron Shwartz.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 26 Sep 2014 @ 3:31pm

    "Holder built a name more on the people he did not prosecute than on those he did, which is unusual for an attorney general."

    "The Justice Department did not criminally charge any major Wall Street firm or executive for fraud in connection with the 2007-2009 financial crisis. Holder also steered clear of criminal charges against CIA agents involved in waterboarding, an Arizona sheriff investigated for civil rights violations and disgraced cyclist Lance Armstrong, who admitted using performance enhancing drugs."

    http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/09/25/us-usa-holder-idUSKCN0HK1QP20140925

    I will give Eric Holder credit for reducing the minimum sentencing guidelines for non-violent drug offenses though.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 26 Sep 2014 @ 6:20pm

      Re:

      He also didn't enforce immigration laws or go after the IRS for political targeting. But then we all know Obama keeps his minions in line.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Tim R (profile), 26 Sep 2014 @ 4:37pm

    FOIA and State Secrets Reform

    Oh, come on now, Trevor. Did you not read the Techdirt article about how the administration loves redefining words? In that context, I'd say that "reforming" those policies is EXACTLY what Holder's been doing.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 26 Sep 2014 @ 5:17pm

    It's a simple matter of definitions

    Eric Holder had previously promised that, “As long as I’m attorney general, no reporter who is doing his job is going to go to jail.” How the Justice Department could pursue contempt of court charges against Risen but keep him out of jail was unknown.


    In Holder's mind, reporters are "doing [their] job" when they report official talking points and cheerlead administration policy decisions. Reporting on whistle-blowers and publishing evidence of government misdeeds? That's not journalism in his estimation.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 26 Sep 2014 @ 6:15pm

    He was a waterboy

    rhe was the worst Attorney General

    He was appointed by the worst president in history and was just carrying out the president's orders. I have little hope that the country will get anyone better in the next election,

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 26 Sep 2014 @ 6:43pm

    Some of the Justice Department’s (DOJ) “greatest hits” under Holder begin and end with his stalwart defense of the Obama administration’s growing powers, coming as they do at the expense of the Constitution.

    The following are just some of the highlights of the civil rights and liberties "advanced" by Holder and his Justice Department:

    ~The military can detain anyone, it deems a threat to the country, including American citizens, as long as they desire, without trial.

    ~The president can kill anyone, including American citizens, even on U.S. soil, as long he thinks someone might have terrorist connections or so long as he has a feeling that they might, at some point in the future, pose a threat to the United States.

    ~The use of regular U.S. military, on U.S. soil, against American citizens.

    ~The federal government has the right to seize the private property—cash, real estate, cars and other assets—of those suspected of being “connected” to criminal activity, whether or not the suspect is actually guilty.

    ~Warrantless electronic surveillance of Americans’ telephone and digital communications is not only permissible but legal.

    ~Judicial review is far from necessary. Moreover, while it is legal for the government to use National Security Letters (NSL) to get detailed information on Americans’ finances and communications without oversight from a judge, it is illegal to challenge the authority of the Justice Department. Administrative subpoenas or NSLs—convenient substitutes for court-sanctioned warrants that require only a government official’s signature in order to force virtually all businesses to hand over sensitive customer information—have become a popular method of bypassing the Fourth Amendment and a vital tool for the DOJ’s various agencies.

    ~Due process and judicial process are not the same. According to Holder, “The Constitution guarantees due process, not judicial process.” What Holder was attempting to suggest is that the Fifth Amendment’s assurance that “No person shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law” does not necessarily involve having one’s day in court and all that that entails—it simply means that someone, the president for example, should review and be satisfied by the facts before ordering someone’s death. As one history professor warned, “Insert even a sliver of difference between due process and judicial process, and you convert liberty into tyranny.

    ~Government whistleblowers will be bankrupted, blacklisted, blackballed and in some cases banished.

    ~Government transparency is important unless it shows government wrongdoings and/or government officials are busy, can stonewall, redact, obfuscate or lie about the details, are able to make the case that they are exempt from disclosure or that it interferes with "national security".

    ~The Obama administration has driven federal prosecutions of financial crimes down to a two-decade low, buoyed in its blindness to corporate corruption by campaign donations from Wall Street banks (whom Holder has determined are too big to prosecute anyhow) and staffers whose lucrative financial portfolios came about as a result of chummy relationships with financiers.

    ~Not all suspects should have the right to remain silent. In 2010, Holder began floating the idea that Miranda rights—which require that a suspect be informed of his right to remain silent—should be modified depending on the circumstances. Curiously, the Supreme Court is presently reviewing a case addressing a similar question, namely whether a suspect’s silence equates to an admission of guilt.

    ~~~

    Clearly, it’s not civil rights that Eric Holder was safeguarding but the power of the presidency and his own. Without a doubt, Holder has taken as his mantra from Nixon’s mantra that “When the President does it, that means it is not illegal.” It may be that the time has come to create a “non-political” and “independent” Attorney General, one who would serve the interests of the public by upholding the rule of law rather than justifying the whims of the President.

    -Sourced in part from: Attorney General Eric Holder: If the President Does It, It’s Legal

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Barbara Duck, 26 Sep 2014 @ 6:47pm

    New Head of DOJ Needs to be a Hybrid..

    It will never happen but this is what I wrote, find one that's half lawyer, half tech, hard to find but they are there. Former US CTO Todd Park is supposed to be doing this anyway, finding better people to serve in governemnt as he quit and that's his new job. Last week too the US CIO quit.

    http://ducknetweb.blogspot.com/2014/09/eric-holder-resigns-as-head-of.html

    If they don't have a hybrid, they'll never have someone with enough confidence to go after the code hoser white crime.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      David, 26 Sep 2014 @ 10:49pm

      Re: New Head of DOJ Needs to be a Hybrid..

      "needs to be"? He'll get appointed by Obama. You're like a hen stating that the next henhouse guard appointed by the lion should be less of a fox.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 26 Sep 2014 @ 7:25pm

    Do not think a new Attorney General will change things. These events that should never happen under our reading of what the Constitution says has been redefined as much by Obama as anyone. I remind you it is done very much on purpose and Obama was a Constitutional scholar, knowing full well what he is doing and where the weak spots are, when they exist. When they don't exist new definitions for words become the permissions to do what is against the law.

    Holder and Obama have been thicker than thieves in these actions. Holder has been shielded from the repercussions of contempt of congress through the executive readings on the matter and that too isn't by accident.

    Nor is the pursuit of whistle blowers and journalists. It is reflected in Obama's determination to pursue whistle blowers with the espionage act and the total ignoring of the journalist shield in protecting their sources. It seems no leaker of bad faith acts by the administration escapes the legal system and no leaker with pats on the back of good news for the same administration is sought much less punished.

    Nor do I have any faith that a change in party will cure it. It's the devil you know or the one you don't know but best man for the job is never the choice. There's a reason why the majority of the voting public is registering as independent.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 26 Sep 2014 @ 9:19pm

    Can we just get some nut to assassinate all these corrupt US leaders?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 28 Sep 2014 @ 12:51am

    Nice article, kudos for various but connected information in one spot, and the honest read of honest fears of average folk

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    ahow628 (profile), 28 Sep 2014 @ 9:53am

    Too bad...

    "Despite the fact that the investigation has been widely condemned by legal experts and Constitutional scholars—former Times general counsel James Goodale said Holder might as well be investigating WikiLeaks for “a conspiracy to commit journalism”—recent court documents show the grand jury is still active."

    Too bad we don't have a constitutional scholar in charge over the DoJ that could step in and make sure what they are doing is constitutional.

    Wait! What? Obama is a constitutional scholar?!? WTF!?!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    bobby b, 1 Oct 2014 @ 1:42am

    By and large, the "press" was a willing, even eager, co-prevaricator along with the Democrat Party, the Obama Party, Acorn, and everyone else who, through both omission and outright lying, hid the evils that were to accompany BO to the presidency.

    So, yeah, Eric Holder Was The Worst Attorney General For The Press In A Generation!

    Ironic, eh?

    Y'all decided that " . . . you know, just screw that whole "role of a free press in keeping this country free" thing, just screw it - instead of just telling people what's going on, we'll keep pretending to be reporters but instead we'll be lobbyists and peers of the government people."

    So, no, y'all don't deserve better.

    Your readers do.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 13 Mar 2015 @ 8:07am

    ALSO HOLDER WON'T BE PURSUING TRUE JUSTICE FOR FERGUSON. HE HASN'T DONE FUCKIN SHIT ABOUT POLICE BRUTALITY IN AMERICA. HOLDER AND OBI WAN(OBAMA) LOVE TALK OUT OF THEIR ASSES.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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