Shortly after the Huffington Post ran a front-page call for Attorney General Eric Holder to resign, personal allies of the DOJ's top man turned to Daniel Klaidman at The Daily Beast (whose sourcing in the Obama administration is some of the best around), to anonymously get the apology tour started. First stop? Holder's brain:
Now came the Post's discovery of the Fox affidavit, which was part of a three-year-old FBI investigation into a State Department contract employee who had allegedly leaked highly classified information about North Korea. And this case had an ominous wrinkle that the AP case had lacked: in the affidavit, investigators had indicated that the reporter himself, James Rosen, might also be guilty of a crime—for simply soliciting the information.
DOJ officials, realizing the issue could turn into a press feeding frenzy, went into damage-control mode. Over the weekend they scrambled to prepare their response, including readying a press statement assuring that Justice had no plans to indict Rosen.
But for Attorney General Eric Holder, the gravity of the situation didn't fully sink in until Monday morning when he read the Post's front-page story, sitting at his kitchen table.
Quoting from the affidavit, the story detailed how agents had tracked Rosen's movements in and out of the State Department, perused his private emails, and traced the timing of his calls to the State Department security adviser suspected of leaking to him. Then the story, quoting the stark, clinical language of the affidavit, described Rosen as "at the very least … an aider, abettor and/or co-conspirator" in the crime. Holder knew that Justice would be besieged by the twin leak probes; but, according to aides, he was also beginning to feel a creeping sense of personal remorse.
Emphasis mine. Years after Holder approved an investigation into Rosen, he was beginning to feel bad. Why'd it take so long? That's not important. What's important, a friend of Holder told Klaidman, is that "Eric sees himself fundamentally as a progressive, not some Torquemada out to silence the press." Now Holder et al. will try to get the press to see the attorney general the way he sees himself, and they're going to do that by hosting the same kind of flattering, private meetings that recently inspired a group of liberal bloggers to throw career IRS employee Lois Lerner under the bus.
Politico's Mike Allen reports this morning that "[t]he Justice Department began contacting D.C. bureau chiefs of major print and broadcast news organizations yesterday to set up a meeting with Attorney General Eric Holder to discuss changes to the department's guidelines for subpoenas to news organizations."
Here's more from Allen's Morning Playbook:
"The A.G. realizes that things might have gotten a little out of balance, and he wants to make changes to be sure the rules fully account for the balance between the First Amendment and law enforcement," the source said. The first media meeting will be held at main Justice, likely later this week. A later meeting will include First Amendment advocates.
A Justice Department official tells Playbook: "Attorney General Eric Holder will hold meetings with several Washington bureau chiefs of national news organizations in the next two days as part of the review of existing Justice Department guidelines governing investigations that involve reporters. This review, which was announced by President Obama last Thursday, is consistent with the Attorney General's long standing belief that protecting and defending the First Amendment is essential to our democracy. These meetings will begin a series of discussions that will continue to take place over the coming weeks. During these sessions, the Attorney General will engage with a diverse and representative group of news media organizations, including print, wires, radio, television, online media and news and trade associations. Further discussions will include news media executives and general counsels as well as government experts in intelligence and investigative agencies."
That's one way to shift the conversation away from the growing number of people who think Holder should lose his job.