Our View

Obama makes Bush look like model of restraint

By From page A10 | May 17, 2013

The issue: AP phone taps, IRS targets, Benghazi debacle cast a dark shadow on the White House

To a person, probably, most of Barack Obama’s supporters believed that, if elected, he would rein in the worst excesses of President George W. Bush’s national-security strategy.

The opposite has happened.

PRESIDENT BUSH fought the eternal White House battle against leaks, but the Valerie Plame leak investigation that led to a single conviction — and that for an offense unrelated to the leak itself — now looks like a door-slamming French farce compared to the Obama administration’s latest stunt.

On Friday, the Associated Press, the United States’ largest news-gathering organization and one of the world’s largest, found out that Obama’s Justice Department had secretly seized two months of the AP’s phone records.

The subpoena targeted the cell, office and home phones of six reporters and an editor. In all, at least 20 separate phone lines were monitored in April and May 2012, including the wire service’s New York headquarters; Washington bureau; Hartford, Conn., office; and the main number for AP offices in the House press gallery. Potentially, the calls of more than 100 journalists were monitored.

To call this overly broad is to make an understatement.

THE JUSTICE DEPARTMENT has strict guidelines for wiretapping members of the press: The investigation must involve a serious crime; the information being sought is vital to the prosecution of the case; the information can be obtained no other way; and the attorney general must give his personal approval, often in writing.

Bush’s Justice Department, despite its ample other ethical lapses, adhered to the guidelines. Obama Attorney General Eric Holder says he played “no direct role” in the AP case. If so, it’s past time for him to resign.

Ostensibly, the investigation is to find out who leaked the details of a failed al-Qaida plot to bomb a U.S.-bound airliner last year. But the stated reason in an administration leak investigation is rarely the real reason.

It’s not aimed at the journalists for whom a subpoena is a badge of honor. Instead, it is meant to terrify into silence government employees who might deal with a reporter. The Obama administration relentlessly pursued current and former employees suspected of leaking secret material and prosecuted more of them than all previous administrations combined.

EITHER OBAMA knew his administration was bugging the country’s most important news organization; knew that his Internal Revenue Service, at the direction of higher levels than previously disclosed, targeted conservative groups; and that the Benghazi diplomatic facility was dangerously vulnerable — or he didn’t.

Maybe exculpatory explanation is still to come. Until then, one way or another, the president is disastrously inept or dangerously misinformed.

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