The news that the Justice Department secretly obtained Associated Press phone records has sparked an uproar in Washington, D.C. Even supporters of President Obama — who suddenly finds himself contending with a flurry of scandals — insist that he must fire those responsible out of respect for press freedom.
Attorney General Eric Holder once again finds himself in the crosshairs. Holder on Tuesday claimed that he had recused himself from an investigation into national security leaks, which was what reportedly led the Justice Department to collect the AP's phone records in the first place. Holder said Deputy Attorney General James Cole "ultimately authorized the subpoena" that led to the seizure of the records.
But Holder isn't in the clear yet. Could he lose his job over this?
"He should be gone," says Charles P. Pierce at Esquire. "This moment. Not only is this constitutionally abhorrent, it is politically moronic."
It doesn't help that the attorney general is already on thin ice. He has been criticized for his handling of a long-simmering debate over the continued existence of the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Civil liberties groups have taken his department to task for authoring a secret legal justification for killing Anwar al-Awlaki, an Al Qaeda leader who was a U.S. citizen. And he has long been a target for conservatives because of his department's role in Fast and Furious, a botched gun-smuggling ring.
"It is unclear how Holder fits into the latest firestorm, but he's a battered survivor of many controversies and this could be the one that finally convinces him or Obama that it's time to go," says Jill Lawrence at the National Journal.
Furthermore, Holder won't be able to hide behind his deputy, says Carl P. Leubsdorf at The Dallas Morning News:
Did Holder sign off on this tactic? If he did, he made a ridiculously bad decision. And if he didn't, he still bears responsibility because the buck stops at the desk of the guy at the top, i.e. the attorney general. [Dallas Morning News]
However, even those who think Obama should dump Holder doubt that the president will do it. Here's Michael Tomasky at The Daily Beast:
Administrations almost always hunker down in these situations and hope they pass. But with the opposition he faces, nothing is going to pass. And if Obama permits these things to linger, they’ll poison the situation on Capitol Hill, which hardly needs any more poisoning, and the substantive bills he wants to pass will be at risk because the GOP base will be that much more intolerant of any Republicans voting for anything Obama favors.
This isn’t a time for letting processes play out. This is a time to take action. [The Daily Beast]
Holder is scheduled to appear at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing about the controversy on Wednesday, which should serve as a useful gauge for his chances of survival.