Eric Holder is in hot water. And the temperature is rising.
The attorney general green-lighted a controversial search warrant for Fox News reporter James Rosen’s private emails, a law enforcement official told NBC News.
The search warrant also labeled Rosen a “possible co-conspirator” in a leak investigation, which has alarmed critics who argue the government is overreaching and criminalizing investigative journalism. The latest revelation comes as the Justice Department is already coming under fire for seizing phone records of Associated Press journalists for an investigation into the leaking of information about a CIA operation in Yemen to stop a bomb plot.
President Obama, who has said he was unaware of the DOJ investigation on AP reporters, has carefully tried to strike a balance between being concerned about the country’s security while also demonstrating his commitment to a free press.
The president reasserted the need to protect classified information during a major speech on national security on Thursday, but also said he was “troubled” by the impact such leak investigations could have on journalism.
“Journalists should not be at legal risk for doing their jobs,” Obama said.
Holder was grilled by the GOP-led House Judiciary Committee on the AP case last week, although he insisted he recused himself from the matter and that it was his deputy, James Cole, who approved those subpoenas. In the Fox News case, however, it’s now clear that Holder was directly involved.
The DOJ case centers on Rosen, because he allegedly received classified information from Stephen Jin-Woo, a security adviser at the State Department, for a story about North Korea’s nuclear program.
The DOJ has charged Kim with violating the Espionage Act. Rosen has not been charged in the case but has been investigated after an FBI agent said he “asked, solicited and encouraged…(a source) to disclose sensitive documents and intelligence.”
After the secret subpoena on the AP records was revealed, the president asked New York Sen. Chuck Schumer to reintroduce media shield legislation that previously failed.
Obama also said on Thursday that he has directed Holder to review the existing DOJ guidelines involving reporters and will gather a group of media organizations to voice their concerns. Holder is expected to report back to the president by July 12.
“This review is consistent with Attorney General Holder’s long-standing belief that freedom of the press is essential to our democracy,” the DOJ said in a statement. “At the same time, the Attorney General believes that leaks of classified information damage our national security and must be investigated using appropriate law enforcement tools. We remain steadfast in our commitment to following all laws and regulations intended to safeguard national security as well as the First Amendment interests of the press in reporting the news and the public in receiving.”
Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus has gone as far as to demand that Holder resign. Obama vehemently defended Holder after reports about the AP probe surfaced.
“I have complete confidence in Eric Holder as attorney general,” the president said last week at a press conference. “He does his job with integrity and I expect he will continue to do so