On Wednesday’s broadcast of MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” host Joe Scarborough laid into former Obama adviser David Axelrod after Axelrod tried to explain away the Department of Justice’s Associated Press phone scandal.
Axelrod said the DOJ’s seizure of months of phone records from hundreds of AP journalists was just an investigation gone overboard as Justice tried to determine who was behind two national security leaks — a failed al Qaeda plot from last year and the Stuxnet computer worm.
Scarborough, however, suggested another possibility — that the phone snooping was not meant to determine leaks but to intimidate sources.
Taking an aggressive tack toward the former Obama adviser and current MSNBC contributor, Scarborough cited an editorial in Wednesday’s New York Times that proposed that possibility and asked Axelrod to respond.
“David, I’m going to stop you,” Scarborough said. “Hold on, hold on. So, it’s not The New York Times that is going to be chilled and The New York Times says it. It’s not going to be the AP that’s going to be chilled,” Scarborough said. “But as the Times says here, ‘But they could reveal sources on other stories and frighten confidential contacts.’ As one person after another in the press have said since this story broke, the idea is not to intimidate The New York Times, the idea is to intimidate sources and scare off whistleblowers. So you do not agree with The New York Times on that part of their editorial?”
Axelrod still maintained that this was just part of an effort to determine the sources of leaks. An animated Scarborough called that a “bogus argument” and proceeded to double down on his previous question.
“Joe, last summer, I appeared with you and you challenged me with the same tone, actually, on these leaks and said, ‘When is the president going to send a strong signal to people that leaking classified information won’t be tolerated? When is he going to make people accountable for these leaks?’” Axelrod replied. “That’s what Sen. [John] McCain and others said. The attorney general empanelled these two U.S. attorneys. They apparently interviewed 550 people and went to court and got a subpoena to do what they did. In order to do what you and others said should be done. Do I agree with that?”
“I’ve heard the president’s defenders try to say this and I congratulate you guys for going off into a room and calling each other for coming up with this bogus argument,” Scarborough replied. “But never did I suggest that 100 AP reporters have all their phone records seized, their private cell numbers seized, their home phone numbers seized. So please save that for somebody else that’s going to buy into that. Don’t shift this to me. Answer me this question: Will sources — confidential sources inside the federal government be intimidated because of what this administration, according to The New York Times, has been doing from the very beginning?”
Axelrod insisted the investigation was out of the president’s control and that this is a risk that must be run when these types of investigations take place.
“Obviously I think it does have an impact on whistleblowers, or could have an impact on whistleblowers,” Axelrod replied. “But Joe, I’m not trying to be accusatory about it. What I’m pointing out though is an investigation was started because many people, you included, said there shouldn’t be these leaks. It is a perilous thing to leak national security stuff, information. And so the attorney general began that process. In answer to Mike [Barnicle]’s question, if the president then said he was reaching into this investigation and said no, don’t look at these phone records, don’t do other things, imagine the scandal that would have created. You know, once that process has started, it’s very hard to stop it. I’ve been a journalist. I’ve done the investigative reporting. I have great, great concerns about this. I agree with that part of it, but once you start those investigations, this is, you know, this is possibly what happens.”