When it comes to the mess surrounding the Justice Department’s subpoenas of Associated Press phone records, the White House has a relatively straightforward response: neither President Obama nor anyone in the West Wing had anything to do with this. The Justice Department oversees investigations, and the White House doesn’t interfere.
The defense isn’t altogether satisfying – the president could denounce such subpoenas, even if they’re legal – but Obama and his team can at least argue, accurately, that DOJ decisions are made at the DOJ, as they should be.
With this in mind, it was interesting to see Wendell Goler, Fox News’ White House correspondent question the “firewall” between the West Wing and the way in which the Justice Department conducts a federal investigation.
For those who can’t watch clips online, Goler noted that President Obama sat next to Attorney General Eric Holder at an event yesterday at the Police Officers Memorial, and asked whether the AP investigation came up in conversation. Press Secretary Jay Carney said, “You can be sure that the firewall that we maintain is always maintained.”
It led to this exchange:
Q: Walk me through why it’s necessary to maintain that firewall.
CARNEY: Seriously? So it is entirely appropriate that criminal investigations conducted by the Department of Justice be independent of the White House, of any White House. And in a case like this when, according again to the Attorney General, that this is an investigation that has to do with an egregious leak of classified information, it would be doubly inappropriate for other components of the administration to cross that line and to communicate with the Justice Department about that ongoing investigation. So we do not.
Let’s hope the right doesn’t start suggesting the “firewall” between the White House and Justice Department investigations should be lowered, just so it becomes easier to criticize the president for controversial DOJ decisions.