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Bridget Johnson


May 20, 2013 - 9:23 am

One of the Obama administration’s multiple scandals continued to grow today as the Washington Post revealed the Department of Justice not only seized the AP’s phone records but tracked Fox News reporter James Rosen:

When the Justice Department began investigating possible leaks of classified information about North Korea in 2009, investigators did more than obtain telephone records of a working journalist suspected of receiving the secret material.

They used security badge access records to track the reporter’s comings and goings from the State Department, according to a newly obtained court affidavit. They traced the timing of his calls with a State Department security adviser suspected of sharing the classified report. They obtained a search warrant for the reporter’s personal e-mails.

The case of Stephen Jin-Woo Kim, the government adviser, and James Rosen, the chief Washington correspondent for Fox News, bears striking similarities to a sweeping leaks investigation disclosed last week in which federal investigators obtained records over two months of more than 20 telephone lines assigned to the Associated Press.

…Court documents in the Kim case reveal how deeply investigators explored the private communications of a working journalist — and raise the question of how often journalists have been investigated as closely as Rosen was in 2010. The case also raises new concerns among critics of government secrecy about the possible stifling effect of these investigations on a critical element of press freedom: the exchange of information between reporters and their sources.

The White House hadn’t scheduled a briefing with press secretary Jay Carney today, but late this morning the administration added a briefing at 1:30 p.m.

In the afternoon, President Obama welcomes Burmese President Thein Sein to the White House.

UPDATE: Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) gives one of the first Hill statements on the latest revelation: “I am very concerned by reports the Obama Administration targeted a FOX News reporter for possible criminal prosecution for doing what appears to be normal news-gathering protected by the First Amendment. The sort of reporting by James Rosen detailed in the report is the same sort of reporting that helped Mr. Rosen aggressively pursue questions about the Administration’s handling of Benghazi. National security leaks are criminal and put American lives on the line, and federal prosecutors should, of course, vigorously investigate.  But we expect that they do so within the bounds of the law, and that the investigations focus on the leakers within the government – not on media organizations that have First Amendment protections and serve vital function in our democracy. We must insist that federal agents not use legitimate investigations as an excuse to harass journalists they deem unfriendly to the President or the Administration.  We shouldn’t even have to ask if our government would do such a thing, but unfortunately as the unfolding IRS scandal shows, this White House has created a culture where we do have to explicitly make these kinds of requests.”

Bridget Johnson is a veteran journalist whose news articles and opinion columns have run in dozens of news outlets across the globe. Bridget first came to Washington to be online editor at The Hill, where she wrote The World from The Hill column on foreign policy. Previously she was an opinion writer and editorial board member at the Rocky Mountain News and nation/world news columnist at the Los Angeles Daily News. She is an NPR contributor and has contributed to USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, National Review Online, Politico and more, and has myriad television and radio credits as a commentator. Bridget is Washington Editor for PJ Media.

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I have to admit that I have VERY mixed feelings about this one. I hate leakers! I spent all the time that my work product was worth leaking with the certain knowledge that if I did it on a network drive or on email that a union and, if it was worth it, the press would likely have it before my intended recipient. Once I had the authority, I prohibited "briefing" or "discussion" memos and those CYA "let me set out my understanding of our discussion and your decision" memos. When forced by my principals to do briefing and decision memos, I wrote them either on my home computer or on the local hard drive of my work computer and made "canary copies" so that each person who received the memo got a slightly but distinctively different copy so the leaker could be identified. I also wrote a fair share of memos conspicuously marked "CONFIDENTIAL: DISTRIBUTE TO NAMED RECIPIENTS ONLY" and similar leak bait for the specific purpose of letting them leak; it's amazing what inquiring minds can find laying on a copier in the halls of a Capitol.

First, let's distinguish between leakers and whistleblowers. A leaker is either someone who for ideological or personal reasons and without authority or authorization to do so takes work product or other information directly to the media. A whistleblower is a person who has attempted to advise at least their supervisor or other designated person that some action is improper either in that it violates some rule or law or offends common sensibility. Just disagreeing with a policy or a decision does not make you a whistleblower or excuse your leaking. If you disagree with a policy, your choice is simple: buck up, carry it out, and live to fight another day or quit. I've done both, so I'm not just being bravado.

Had I been President GW Bush's COS, I would have hunted down the leakers and done them in like rabid dogs. I would have found them, fired them, and prosecuted the ones for which I could state a cause. In this case, neither Rosen nor his source(s) had any expectation of privacy in their comings and goings; acts performed in public are not private. The government may need a warrant to try to find out what was said between two people, but it doesn't need anything but curiousity to find out that something transpired between them. I loved it when some bad act took place in a facility that had key cards because it sure made the defense's job more difficult; they had to keep both the timeline and the story straight. To be clear, I believe that within limits, a reporter has the right to use improperly, even illegally, leaked material; my beef is with the leaker. As an employee of the government, you simply don't have the right to decide what is public and what isn't. If as a matter of conscience or professional judgement you decide that an action is improper, have informed your principal(s) that you believe it to be improper - again, not just that you disagree with it - then you are a whistleblower and entitled to whistleblower protection, otherwise, you're just a leaker and the government has every right to hunt you down. Of course, a Democrat government will also hunt down a legitimate whistleblower, but that's OK because Democrats are good people and good people don't do bad things.

But here's where I'm torn: I know damned well that if GWB's guys had hunted down leakers, the WaPo and NYT would have been screaming like banshees about freedom of the press, privacy, confidentiality of sources, etc. With this one, they're kinda, sorta reporting it but you know the bast*rds are chortleing about it behind closed doors. I'll guarantee you that they'd be going nuts on this one if it was some reliably lefty reporter who'd been targeted. While I despise leakers, I hate lefty hypocrites even more.
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