President Barack Obama has asked his friend Attorney General Eric Holder to investigate Holder’s unprecedented investigation of a Fox News reporter.
Holder approved the Justice Department’s extraordinary 2010 investigation of contacts between a Fox News reporter and a State Department official who has since been charged with leaking classified information, according to NBC.
The Justice Department searched the reporter’s e-mails and phone calls under the legal claim that he may have contributed to a crime.
The Fox News revelation followed the news that the Justice Department had investigated the phone records of reporters working for The Associated Press.
On May 24, however, Obama reacted to growing alarm in the media by asking Holder to review the Justice Department’s procedures for investigating the media.
“We must keep information secret that protects our operations and our people in the field,” the president said at a speech in Washington D.C.
“But a free press is also essential for our democracy [and] I am troubled by the possibility that leak investigations may chill the investigative journalism that holds government accountable,” he said.
“Journalists should not be at legal risk for doing their jobs … [and] I have raised these issues with the Attorney General, who shares my concern. So he has agreed to review existing Department of Justice guidelines governing investigations that involve reporters, and will convene a group of media organizations to hear their concerns as part of that review,” he said.
“I have directed the Attorney General to report back to me by July 12th.”
The president’s announcement contradicts numerous statements by his press secretary that the president does not comment on current investigations. The uproar over media surveillance has soured the frequently adulatory news coverage Obama received over his first term, and the administration is under pressure to minimize the damage.
White House officials have said that the Fox News reporter, Jay Rosen, will not be charged and is no longer under investigation.
The State Department official is still facing a court date.
The president’s apparent backtracking on the criminal case follows a tough few weeks in which he and his administration have become embroiled in damaging scandals.
In addition to the scandals over interference with the media, the administration is in hot water over political targeting of conservative nonprofits by the IRS, the White House’s coverup of the circumstances of the September 2012 jihadi attack in Benghazi, and the decision by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to pressure regulated health care companies to donate to funds to advocacy group supported by the White House.
The controversies, however, have minimized attention to Obama’s primary 2013 legislative priority, winning passage of a controversial and far-reaching rewrite of the nation’s immigration laws.
“It’s like magic — you distract the audience while the real trick is being done — and I think right now, while Americans focus on President Obama’s unending difficulties, it’s good news for the [senators] working on immigration,” Alex Castellanos, a GOP consultant, told Bloomberg News May 23.