Justice Integrity Project
One of the nation's most battle-tested First Amendment experts warned this week that President Obama "surely" will exceed the 1970s abuses of Richard Nixon "as the worst president ever on issues of national security and press freedom."
James C. Goodale, left, was New York Times general counsel during its 1971 fight with the Nixon administration to publish the Pentagon Papers.
He wrote a Times op-ed May 21, Only Nixon Harmed a Free Press More. It cited recent revelations about the Obama Justice Department's extreme measures to plug national security leaks by secret surveillance of more than 100 Associated Press reporter phones, plus monitoring of a Fox News reporter suspected of speaking with a State Department contractor.
"The search warrant filed to investigate the Fox News reporter James Rosen proved as many had suspected: President Obama wants to make it a crime for a reporter to talk to a leaker," Goodale wrote. "Until President Obama came into office, no one thought talking or e-mailing was not protected by the First Amendment."
The show continued our focus on the issue, exemplified a year ago in my column, Press Probes 'Obama's War On Leaks. It reported on a panel convened by the nation's two leading press clubs whereby prominent reporters issued dire warnings about dangers to the public from the Obama administration's methods.
Goodale voiced his concerns repeatedly this spring following publication of his well-regarded book, Fighting for the Press: The Inside Story of the Pentagon Papers and Other Battles.
His analysis has become an especially hot topic with this month's revelations that government surveillance targets included Associated Press and Fox News reporters and their sources. In addition, independent, web-based journalists and whistleblowers have long protested the Obama administration as enshrining into more settled law abusive Bush administration tactics for suppressing leaks post-9/11.
The Justice Integrity Project has covered this fight extensively for several years. Among notable columns have been Mr. Drake Goes To Washington, comparing former National Security Agency executive and spy defendant Thomas Drake to the embattled hero, Jimmy Stewart, in the iconic movie about corruption-fighting in Washington. Another story quoted six prominent whistleblowers as stating that the Obama Justice Department seemed more dangerous and vindictive to them than the Bush administration.
Also, we broke the stories (along with Alabama reporter Roger Shuler of Legal Schnauzer) that the Swedish law firm attacking WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has ties to the CIA. Sweden has relentlessly sought custody of Assange for questioning on sex misconduct claims. The intense focus on Assange suggests a hidden agenda for his role in distributing secret government documents -- not simply a probe of sex misconduct claims that are not formal charges.
Goodale, in a break with many establishment First Amendment advocates, has cited Assange's treatment as a dangerous sign for the media. Goodale asserts that a potential U.S. prosecution of Assange on spy charges would be a tipping point in moving Obama past Nixon as more dangerous on First Amendment issues.
Three major controversies in the Obama Administration the past week illustrate an ongoing crisis in holding government officials accountable for their conduct.
Revelation of a secret Justice Department probe of Associated Press reporters and their news sources has aroused near-unprecedented outrage by the mainstream media against the administration. Update: New reports, excerpted below, show that a Justice Department investigation of Fox News was apparently at least as intrusive as that of AP -- and involved a claim by authorities in legal papers, which they later pooh-poohed, that the reporter was potentially subject to criminal charges for asking a government source for information to report.
The misconduct claims are particularly damaging to President Obama because they come at the same time conservatives remain on the attack because of the Benghazi massacre last September and because of a newly revealed IRS policy of flagging "tea party" and "patriot" groups for extra scrutiny on their requests for tax exemptions.
Those controversies are just part of Obama's political problems. Civil rights, peace, and women's advocates -- primarily but not exclusively on the left -- have new grievances also regarding Obama's harsh crackdown against whistleblowers and the continued reports of sex crimes against female military personnel.
WWL-AM/FM radio host Tommy Tucker, right, invited me May 15 and 20 to discuss the issues. Based in New Orleans, WWL broadcasts through five Southern states and nationally via the Web. Tucker has been a vigorous champion of civil liberties through many complex situations, especially regarding misconduct within the U.S. attorney's office in New Orleans currently under an internal probe by Washington headquarters.
The danger to the public from the AP scandal, I said in the first WWL interview, is election winners then get to control government information to an unprecedented degree. I expanded on those themes on my weekly public affairs show, MTL Washington Update, with co-host Scott Draughon May 17. Click here to listen. The beginning of the show is about the scandals. Youthful entrepreneur and author Nick Friedman was the guest at the end, discussing how he built from scratch a nationwide moving business, College Hunks Hauling Junk.
Regarding the secret government spying on journalists and their sources, an AP lawyer called it "a dagger at the heart of the press."
The Justice Department's grand juries could chill reporting not simply on national security, but on relatively routine matters undertaken by reporters or organizations secretly monitored. Thanks to technological breakthroughs and lack of court or congressional supervision, authorities can monitor, store and retrieve almost anyone's routine phone, email, and other electronic communications without their knowledge. A reporter might contact a government employee on a routine matter, but frighten the employee by such contact if the reporter has ever written a controversial story.
Opposition parties are no savior for those in the public seeking to learn the truth. Partisan, selective, and otherwise misleading advocacy often arises, as illustrated in the excerpts below.
This column's focus is on the three major controversies. Noted also is information the president's opponents (and sometimes his defenders) do not want to provide the public, often because it involves CIA or similar covert activities or matters that embarass VIP players. An appendix lists links to relevant news commentaries for further background.
Update II: CIA Director David Petraeus played a key and controversial role in recommended talking points for the White House on the Benghazi killings, the Washington Post reported in print editions May 22.
Separately, the president obtained the resignations of two top IRS officials, including Acting Commissioner Steven Miller, appointed in November to acting status to lead the IRS. Miller is a 25-year career employee. He replaced a Bush appointee, Douglas Shulman, whose five-year term expired after running the IRS during the most of the period covered by the controversy.
The convoluted authority chain at the IRS is part of that story. So are Karl Rove-style tax exempt political education efforts, such as his Crossroads Global Policy Studies group. A Wall Street Journal report in mid-2012 was one announcement of the link, IRS Probes Political Group Tied to Rove. The Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United decision helped open the door for massive corporate funding of political campaigns. Socal welfare groups seek a tax exemption under the claim their primary goal is to educate the public on the best policies, not winning political campaigns. In practice, the IRS must decide if the education morphs into political advocacy.
The life story of Sambonn Lek, a famed Washington, DC bartender and philanthropist, provides an inspirational change of pace from our usual reports here of injustice and hardship.
Unrelenting bad news can be discouraging. "Sam," as my longtime friend is known, has made a career of dispensing indoor sunshine.
After arriving in the United States in 1974 as a refugee from Cambodia, he became one of the best-known, liked, and respected professionals in Washington's hospitality industry. His warmth and flair have long attracted a powerful clientele from business, government, and the media.
Beyond that, he has served as the tireless founder, fund-raiser and hands-on goods and services implementer for Sam's Relief Inc., a charity helping Cambodians following the genocide during the 1970s.
He made news this week within the Beltway by moving to a new locale, the Hamilton Crowne Plaza Hotel, following nearly 40 years presiding at the Mayflower-Renaissance Hotel. That work was primarily at its now-closed Town and Country Bar, a wood-panelled emporium that catered to the hotel's elite clientele in the heart of the city's business district on Connecticut Avenue.
Experts analyzed May 3 on MTL Washington Update radio the sequester's impact on the public, as well as chilling revelations about the FBI's long-term campaign to stifle political opponents.
Richard Sammon, left, is senior associate editor of the Kiplinger Letter. He drew from his in-depth report this week on spending cuts and their impact on businesses and consumers.
Also on the noon (EDT) public affairs show, author Seth Rosenfeld summarized his findings from his award-winning book, Subversives. It documents how the FBI in the 1960s worked with prominent politicians to advance their careers.
He focused especially on how Ronald Reagan as president of the Screen Actors Guild began a strong relationship with the FBI to target suspected communists and other left-wingers -- first in Hollywood and then in such other realms of public life as California's state university system.
Rosenfeld, right, obtained 300,000 pages of confidential records revealing chilling cooperation between political and FBI leaders to target mutual opponents. His investigation began when he was a student newspaper editor in 1981 at the University of California at Berkeley. Through five lawsuits to obtain document release, he continued his research through his 25-year career as a prominent San Francisco newspaper reporter.
Sammon has been a full time national political reporter in Washington D.C. since 1990. He covers the White House, Congress, national politics, elections, defense and several other issues.
"Nearly everyone who deals with Uncle Sam will share the pain of the sequester – those automatic spending cuts in federal programs," Sammon and his colleagues said about their special report this week to Kiplinger subscribers.
"The real world impact? Longer waits for help from bureaucrats. Dried-up business for contractors and suppliers of everything from pens to planes. Closed national parks and monuments. And delayed trials in the U.S. Court system – maybe even for the Boston Marathon bombing suspect."
The annual Ridenhour Prize luncheon for courageous journalism contrasted sharply last week with the yearly White House Correspondents Dinner gala for corporate-run news organizations, top political figures, other celebrities, and their financial backers.
The Ridenhour Prizes, named for the Vietnam War veteran who revealed the My Lai Massacre, celebrates an ideal of the journalist struggling against odds to document an important story that may prove highly unpopular. Its 10th awards luncheon April 24 at the National Press Club honored four more winners in that tradition -- which is an inspiring ideal for some, but one unlikely to lead to lucrative or secure employment.
The much larger Correspondents Dinner is a century-old event held April 27 at the Washington Hilton Hotel. The capital's largest ballroom was filled to capacity to accommodate VIPs and would-be VIPs listening to President Obama deliver a joke-filled speech that showcased his speaking skills and lighter side.
To be sure, the events shared some common ground. Organizers and patrons of the Ridenhour awards succeeded in bestowing glamour upon their ceremony with a nicely appointed luncheon, table ornaments comprised of the honorees' work -- and eloquent speeches by all concerned.
Speakers at the Correspondents dinner including Obama repeatedly emphasized the mission of the free press and the dinner's fund-raising goal of providing scholarships to college journalism students. The President, First Lady, and other head table participants greeted each of the scholarship winners.
Aside from those similarities, the two events exemplified different aspects of high-level Washington journalism: Those who challenge authority with their questions and commentaries -- and those who maintain access by going along with government rituals for those most part.
This column expands on that theme, and lists the Ridenhour awardees.
Ridenhour Master of Ceremonies Danielle Brian and former U.S. Ambassador Joseph Wilson used the occasion in their column, For whistleblowers, fraying protection, to argue why serious journalism is now endangered, especially on national security issues.
Brian is the director of the Project on Government Oversight (POGO). Wilson received the Ridenhour "Truth-telling Award" in the event's first year because he dared anger the Bush-Cheney White House in 2003 by failing to justify the Iraq War with unsupported claims that Saddam Hussein sought materials from the Sudan for Weapons of Mass Destruction.
Brian and Wilson argued in their column that the Obama administration represents an even greater threat to whistle blowers and the media on national security issues than Bush-Cheney.
In a similar vein, OpEd News columnist Michael Collins headlined a column, What's so funny Mr. President? Collins continued:
The president will never be asked that question. But if just one of those White House correspondents hosting the event had the courage, the answer would be in two parts. How can the president and the press get together and yuck it up when we're in such a dreadful state of affairs?
Revelations continued this month exposing disgraceful conduct by state and federal authorities in Alabama courts.
The cases have national implications, especially since the Obama Justice Department has been complicit in enforcing such injustices from the Bush-Rove era as the frame-up of former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman and co-defendant businessman Richard Scrushy on corruption charges. Each was sentenced to seven years in prison in a case marred by massive irregularities and protested by 113 former state attorney generals from more than 40 states who said the defendants did not commit a crime.
The most recent disclosures include those by Scrushy now that his seven-year prison term is over after he served six years. Arising also are a number of unrelated scandals involving Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange, left, who is continuing the notorious selective prosecution practices of his predecessors to help gamblers who contribute to their political coffers.
The pattern of major irregularities prompted Tuskegee Mayor Johnny Ford, right, and five co-plaintiffs to file a federal civil rights suit against Strange alleging their communities are being deprived of due process rights and such benefits as jobs because the attorney general uses his office to benefit those gamblers who support him and his political allies.
Roger Shuler, the state's leading journalist documenting such abuses, has also alleged a long-running pattern of harassment by employers and court officials in what he calls retribution against him and his wife, Carol.
Normally, we do not report on this site about allegations in personal litigation. Millions of cases in the United States are pending.
This is an exception. Shuler is courageous and credible journalist in my view. Also, little would surprise me about the federal and state court system in Alabama after my years reporting in this space about its irregularities.
Furthermore, courts around the country often demonstrate similar abuses -- as indicated by several news reports excerpted below and many independent studies previously reported here.
Today's news reports include Maryland indictments of 13 female jail guards involved in sex and drug abuse with an accused murderer under their supervision in Baltimore. The accused killer's harem of guards allegedly included four guards he impregnated. Two guards tattooed his name on their bodies as a symbol of devotion.
Another report involves 14 Amish men and women from Ohio sentenced to prison on hate-crime charges because their hair and beard-cutting attacks on community members they regarded as groomed inappropriately for their faith. One term is 15 years, a travesty of prosecutorial overkill in an age of budget deficits and economic privation.