The Obama Administration’s Unconscionable Assault On the First Amendment

With each passing day, we are learning more about the IRS scandal and more about the Justice Department’s efforts to silence whistleblowers and informants in particular.

First, the news broke that the Justice Department seized two months of phone records from the Associated Press. Records for 20 different numbers were seized — from phone lines used by hundreds of reporters. In doing this, the DOJ ignored its own established guidelines, nor did it ever inform the AP of its intentions. 

AP CEO Gary Pruitt, who is also a constitutional lawyer, did not contain his criticism of the administration’s actions:

Gary Pruitt, in his first television interviews since it was revealed the Justice Department subpoenaed phone records of AP reporters and editors, said the move already has had a chilling effect on journalism. Pruitt said the seizure has made sources less willing to talk to AP journalists and, in the long-term, could limit Americans’ information from all news outlets.


Pruitt told CBS’ “Face the Nation” that the government has no business monitoring the AP’s newsgathering activities.


“And if they restrict that apparatus … the people of the United States will only know what the government wants them to know and that’s not what the framers of the Constitution had in mind when they wrote the First Amendment,” he said.

Attorney General Eric Holder claimed the administration only sought to obtain information about who leaked details of a CIA operation in Yemen that apparently thwarted an airliner bombing plot. He claimed such leaks put  “American lives at risk.”  Turns out that was just another of the many lies administration officials have told about the records seizure. In reality, the investigation was all about the administration wanting to brag about the successful operation and the AP reporting it first. 


Now comes word of something even worse. The Justice Department was apparently spying on Fox News Reporter James Rosen. DOJ was investigating a story Rosen covered in 2009 about intelligence officials warning that North Korea would likely respond to U.N. sanctions with more nuclear tests. State Department adviser Stephen Jin-Woo Kim was charged for divulging this classified information under the Espionage Act.  Not only did the DOJ seize Rosen’s phone records, but it also tracked his comings and goings at the State Department. They perused his personal emails that Google turned over. Google acquiesced to the request because they were told that Rosen was “an aider and abettor and/or co-conspirator in the crime” for attempting to acquire the intelligence from Kim.

But trying to obtain such information is what reporters do every day.

I have been following politics closely since the 1992 election.

And I have never seen such an egregious assault on a free press and the First Amendment like I have witnessed over the last two weeks.

It’s difficult for the media to earn any sympathy these days. Aside from the obvious bias found in many corners of the media, they are often sloppy, lazy, and more concerned with getting the story out first than they are with getting it right. This leaves the media open to well-deserved criticism.

That being said, there is no justification whatsoever for the Justice Department actions. Classified information and intelligence leaks have been at the heart of major news stories such as The Pentagon Papers (The Obama administration behavior is eerily similar to what Nixon was doing in response to to this), the Watergate scandal, and Iran-Contra. The Associated Press has already said sources refuse to talk to them anymore for fear of retaliation from the government. This is exactly the kind of thing people refer to when they use the term “chilling effect.”

We won’t know the full repercussions of what the Obama administration has wrought until more journalists start saying they have fewer stories because sources won’t talk. 

There is only way to put a stop to such gross misconduct — people need to lose their jobs.

And Attorney General Eric Holder should be the first to go. It does not matter if he was the one who didn’t make the call to seize the AP records. Holder heads up the Justice Department and shoulders the responsibility.

It is the only way President Obama (assuming he really did not know any of this was going on) can assure the American people that there truly is a free press and that whistleblowers and informants won’t be perused or prosecuted simply because the administration was unable to control the narrative.