When the Iran-Contra scandal broke out, President Reagan went on national television and played dumb. He claimed he had no knowledge that high-level members of his administration were illegally selling arms to the Iranian regime and using the proceeds to fund the Nicaraguan Contra rebels, despite legislation prohibiting such aid. It was dubious at best, but he decided that being an incompetent president who doesn’t even know what’s going on in his own administration was better than being blamed for willfully breaking the law.
I can’t help but wonder if that scenario is playing itself out again. According to White House Press Secretary Jay Carney, President Obama didn’t know anything about the Justice Department’s nefarious snooping on Associated Press journalists. I find that extremely hard to believe.
According to the AP, the Justice Department monitored the work and personal phone records of more than 20 reporters and editors for months. From the very beginning of the Obama reign, there has been a war on whistleblowers, an effort to strike fear into those who might leak information to the press, a fight to make the Imperial Presidency more secret than it has ever been. Until now, the administration seemed to brazenly parade its achievement of prosecuting more people under the Espionage Act than all previous administrations. But with this latest fiasco, the administration seems to have crossed the line: now, they are too embarrassed to admit it.
“This investigation is broader and less focused on an individual source or reporter than any of the others we’ve seen,” said Steven Aftergood, of the Federation of American Scientists told The Washington Post. “They have swept up an entire collection of press communications. It’s an astonishing assault on core values of our society.”
Jacob Heilbrunn at The National Interest writes that “leaks have always plagued presidents” and that “they are a function of a national security state that has always aspired to total control in the post-World War II-era.”
“It is no small irony that Obama, who declared that he would halt the George W. Bush administration’s violations of personal freedoms, has exceeded the mendacity of his predecessors in creating a new star chamber to hunt down his detractors and enemies,” Heilbrunn adds.
The government would not say why it sought the records. Officials have previously said in public testimony that the U.S. attorney in Washington is conducting a criminal investigation into who may have provided information contained in a May 7, 2012, AP story about a foiled terror plot. The story disclosed details of a CIA operation in Yemen that stopped an Al Qaeda plot in the spring of 2012 to detonate a bomb on an airplane bound for the United States.