Monday, January 02, 2006
When John Ashcroft has problems you know you’re in trouble--The announcement that the Justice Department has launched an investigation into who leaked the President’s NSA eavesdropping program is really scary. While ostensibly it is designed to unearth who revealed classified information to a New York Times reporter, it has a much more serious intent: to scare reporters out of reporting stories that offend the administration. It is a blatant, thoroughly cynical, and very scary attack on the First Amendment.
Here’s how it works: you are, like James Risen of the Times, contacted by someone who wants to leak classified information about something possibly illegal that the government is doing. If you do print it and there is an investigation into who leaked the information, you are likely to be hauled before a grand jury and asked who the source was. If you refuse--as all honorable journalists must--you are threatened with jail. The number of reporters willing to publish such a story is now reduced to those who are willing to go to jail on the principle, which is not many of us. The administration knows that. There is no federal shield law and the administration is blocking any attempt to pass one.
The legality of the NSA program is at best murky. While the Attorney General and White House are sure the President has such power, that is not obvious to everyone; many experts, including Conservatives, doubt it. According to the Times, at least one high official in Justice refused to sign off on the program because of qualms about its legality, and the White House had to go to the hospital to talk to John Ashcroft, who was recovering from surgery. Even Ashcroft, the Times said, had problems and had to be talked into it. If that dingbat is concerned, shouldn’t we all?
Leaking classified information is a crime and ought to be investigated. One Senator suggested that the person or persons who leaked the information could have had but two motivations, either to actually harm the U.S., or to make public what he or she or they thought was an illegal act by the President, the most likely scenario.
The legislative branch, which is under an unprecedented attack by the executive branch, would be much better off at this juncture, investigating the legality of the President’s order. If it is illegal, it would constitute an impeachable offense (a tad more serious than a blow job in the Oval Office, I think). But then that would require some guts wouldn’t it, and we’re talking about Congress here.
What had been just the most incompetent administration in modern history (hi there, Warren Harding) is now also the most dangerous.
End of bloviation.
[Photo from http://www.antiwar.com/justin/?articleid=5351]