Apparently it never occurred to Attorney General Eric Holder that the Associated Press might be "too big to fail." If it had,then his Justice Department probably never would have investigated it.
The AP isn't just any news agency. It's the largest one in the United States and one of the three largest in the world, along with Great Britain's Reuters and Agence France-Presse. And it is, understandably enough, angry.
So are journalists who work for other outlets, along defenders of a free press and supporters of an informed citizenry. Journalists must be free of direct or implied intimidation if democracy is to work properly. And yet, correspondents who cover this Administration will often admit privately that they do feel intimidated.
"Twice as much as all previous administrations combined"
A free press sometimes makes powerful people uncomfortable. It can even cause them considerable inconvenience. Actions against journalists must be very carefully weighed against democratic principle and fundamental freedoms. Instead, this White House has been as zealous as its Republican predecessors - in many ways, more so - both in its pursuit of low-level officials who leak information to reporters, and in its pursuit of reporters themselves.
The AP investigation, which seems quite broad, is only one example of that. As The New York Times reports: "Under President Obama, six current and former government officials have been indicted in leak-related cases so far, twice the number brought under all previous administrations combined."
Even the Bush Administration didn't find it necessary to pursue journalists and truth-revealing Americans as fiercely as the Obama White House.
"Too big to jail"
Holder said today that investigators were pursuing a "very serious" leak which "put the American people at risk" and therefore required "very aggressive action." That approach stands in stark contrast to his comments about bank prosecutions this past March, when he said: "the size of some of these institutions becomes so large that it does become difficult for us to prosecute them (because) if you do prosecute, if you do bring a criminal charge, it will have a negative impact on the national economy, perhaps even the world economy." Holder's comment appears to be disingenuous on its face, since he fails to explain how prosecuting individual wrongdoers at those institutions would threaten the national or world economy. That's the primary demand of those who criticize his failure to investigate or prosecute Wall Street criminals.
Subpoena these records
It's also why the Home Defenders League has announced a week of action starting May 20 to demand an end to the Obama/Holder "too big to jail" policy. That policy has led to extraordinary prosecutorial passivity in the face of overwhelming evidence. There's certainly no sign that the Justice Department has ever sought the phone records or emails of America's top bankers.
That's not for a lack of promising leads to pursue, including:
- Which bankers conspired to rig LIBOR pricing or fix other rates?
- What discussions were held among MERS users about using the database and shell company to conceal the identity of mortgage lien holders or evade local taxes and fees?
- What conversations were held between accounting firms such as PricewaterhouseCoopers and executives at AIG, Goldman Sachs, or other institutions about concealing their true financial status?
- How frequently was JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon in touch with the "London Whale" and his office, and how aware was Dimon of the extent of losses when he told investors the six-billion-dollar blunder was a "tempest in a teapot"?
- When and how did CEOs and other senior bank executives learn of widespread fraud in the foreclosure process at their banks, and to what extent were they accessories after the fact in these crimes?
But instead of pursuing these crimes, the Obama/Holder Justice Department chose to aggressively pursue the phone records of journalists -- including those who weren't involved in the story they were investigating.
A time for skepticism
Holder said that story "put the American people at risk." But experience with other civil-liberties-unfriendly administrations should teach us to treat such warnings with some skepticism. The AP piece which apparently triggered the investigation reported that the CIA thwarted an attempt by al-Qaeda in Yemen to blow up an American airliner.
But another story filed the same day as the AP's, and credited to "NBC News and msnbc.com news services," begins as follows:
"The CIA foiled a plot by al-Qaida's affiliate in Yemen to bomb a U.S.-bound airliner this month, senior U.S. officials told NBC News."
Sounds like a promising lead -- if you really want to find the leaker. Were reporters at the administration-friendly NBC/MSNBC operation subject to the same level of scrutiny as AP's?
Motivation becomes a key factor when considering the targets a Justice Department chooses to pursue -- or ignore. Deputy Attorney General Lanny Breuer, who was charged with investigating Wall Street crimes and whose inaction became a national disgrace, has already cashed in with a specially-created senior position at Wall Street defense firm Covington & Burling...
... which happens to be the firm that employed Eric Holder when he defended Wall Street bankers.
Americans at Risk
Every law enforcement agency needs to worry about keeping its citizens safe. But "too big to jail" leaves the administration with a black mark in that category, too. Our nation's bankers "put Americans at risk" before 2008 and continue to do so every day. Their misdeeds have deprived Americans of wealth, health, and even their lives. (The suicide rate has risen four times faster since the recession began.)
But bank crime doesn't seem to appear on the Obama Administration's radar, and it doesn't seem to interest the Holder Justice Department. That means local law enforcement spends a lot more time evicting homeowners -- including the victims of illegal foreclosure -- than it does arresting lawbreaking bankers. They're wiretapping reporters and jailing leakers,while letting executive-suite criminals go free.
Apparently leaks which keep the public informed require "very aggressive action" -- but crimes which shatter the economy, leaving millions without homes and millions more without jobs aren't worth lifting a finger to investigate.