The growing furor over the Obama administration's secret investigation of journalists took a sharp turn Thursday with the revelation that Attorney General Eric Holder had personally authorized a controversial search warrant targeting a Fox News reporter.
Holder signed off on the search warrant for James Rosen, Fox's chief Washington correspondent, that alleged Rosen had possibly committed espionage "either as an aider, abettor, and/or co-conspirator," according to NBC. Rosen has never been charged with any crime, and that warrant has been universally condemned by journalists of all political stripes.
"This heavy-handed business isn't chilling, it's just plain cold," declared The Washington Post's Eugene Robinson.
Rosen's case stems from a 2009 story he wrote about North Korea's nuclear program, in which he cited confidential government intelligence. The Obama administration, which has made a habit of fiercely pursuing internal leaks, quickly fingered a State Department contractor, Jin-Woo Kim, who has since been charged with violating the Espionage Act.
To build the case against Kim, the administration pulled Rosen's phone records, tracked his movement in and out of the State Department using his government-issued ID, and ultimately sought that search warrant for his emails by saying there was "probable cause" to believe that he too had broken the law.
The news of Holder's involvement comes on the heels of another unflattering story about the White House secretly obtaining phone records for Associated Press reporters. Holder has tried to remain above that fray by saying he recused himself from the decision and has virtually no insider knowledge of it.
The new Rosen revelation also came on the same day that Obama, in a sweeping speech redefining the nation's counterterror efforts, specifically said he was "troubled" by the DOJ's leak investigations because they could have a chilling effect on journalists and their sources.
"Journalists should not be at legal risk for doing their jobs," the president said. "Our focus must be on those who break the law."
Obama, who has used the AP scandal to press for a federal shield law that would protect journalists, said he'd asked Holder to review the DOJ's guidelines for investigating reporters, and to meet with media groups before reporting back in mid-July. As some have pointed out though, that means Holder will essentially be reviewing himself.
And now, with the disclosure that Holder himself signed off on the DOJ's most controversial probe yet, calls for his resignation are growing louder.
Huh, the Huffington Post says Eric Holder should go... twitter.com/RyanLizza/stat…
— Ryan Lizza (@RyanLizza) May 24, 2013
The National Republican Congressional Committee, likewise, suggested Holder should go, launching on Friday a petition to that end.
The DOJ defended Holder's involvement in the review process, issuing this statement to NBC:
This review is consistent with Attorney General Holder's long-standing belief that freedom of the press is essential to our democracy. At the same time, the attorney general believes that leaks of classified information damage our national security and must be investigated using appropriate law enforcement tools. We remain steadfast in our commitment to following all laws and regulations intended to safeguard national security as well as the First Amendment interests of the press in reporting the news and the public in receiving it. [NBC]