President Obama has repeatedly said that he became aware of the Justice Department’s decision to issue a subpoena for Associated Press journalists’ phone records to investigate the disclosure of classified information only when the news surfaced in the media this week.
Should Obama have known about the Justice Department’s probe?
The White House’s legal office was informed of the Inspector General’s report a few weeks ago, while the White House itself was not informed at all that Justice Department looked at phone records from April and May of 2012 of AP reporters. The investigation centered on the disclosure of classified information having to do with a CIA operation in Yemen to stop a bomb plot, which the AP wrote about in May 2012. The White House also said it was not informed of Attorney General Holder’s recusal from the case and his subsequent decision to hand over the baton to his deputy, James Cole.
Hardball host Chris Matthews asked White House spokesman Jay Carney on Thursday: “If this is the way the president operates, getting the news late, or getting it as he says in the newspapers, how can he be an aggressive chief executive?”
Carney said it was “entirely appropriate” Obama had no idea about the probe.
“I would turn this around. Imagine what reporters would be saying and people like you would be saying if the president of the United States and the folks in the White House were being informed of and engaged in on a criminal investigation into a leak that presumably, because it’s a leak of classified information, has to do with a leak that emanated from somewhere within the federal government? That would be viewed as absolutely inappropriate and in past history of previous administrations, beyond inappropriate,” said Carney. ”It is entirely appropriate that we are not informed of the progress or the methods used by federal prosecutors in criminal investigations.”
In response to outrage of the DOJ’s investigation, on Wednesday, the president said he backed a federal shield law for reporters seeking to protect their confidential sources. The White House asked Democratic Sen. Charles Schumer to reintroduce a shield law he proposed in 2009. It says reporters do not have to disclose the names of confidential sources or their means of communicating with them.
On Thursday, Obama carefully tried to strike a balance between being concerned about the country’s security while also demonstrating his commitment to a free press.
“You know, leaks related to national security can put people at risk,” he said. “It can put men and women in uniform that I’ve sent to the battlefield at risk. They can put some of our intelligence officers who are in various dangerous situations that are easily compromised at risk,” the president said.
“The flip side of it is, we also live in a democracy where a free press, free expression and open flow of information helps hold me accountable, helps hold the government accountable, and helps democracy function,” Obama added, insisting the federal shield law could help balance the two.
Former Republican National Chairman Michael Steele strongly disagreed with Carney, insisting the president should have been aware of the AP probe.
“There’s a difference between the president being involved in an investigation and the president being informed,” Steele told Matthews. “Nobody is asking the president to get a blow-by-blow of what the attorney general is doing and finding out in an ongoing criminal or other type of investigation. What we would think, though, is that someone from the Justice Department would inform someone in the White House to inform the president that this is going on.”