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Editorial: Holder's authority crumbles

June 8, 2013

Circling the wagons, to pick a popular Washington cliché, only helps if you’re inside the circle.



So there are two ways to read between the lines of a recent New York Times report on Attorney General Eric Holder and his shaky support within the Obama administration. No, actually there’s only one way, and it’s not good for the nation’s top law enforcement officer.



That cloud of diesel rolling down Pennsylvania Avenue is, in fact, a bus with no seat assigned to him. His place is under it.



And if our analysis is correct, it’s well deserved.



Holder survived the Fast and Furious gun-walking scandal and other peccadilloes of President Barack Obama’s first term but showed an uncanny knack for turning small problems into big ones. He considered stepping aside between terms but decided to stay, the Times reports, “in part because before he left, he wanted to move beyond the disputes that had characterized his tenure, accomplish some of the goals he had set for the job and leave on his own terms.”



Ironic and unfortunate for the administration. Today, Holder finds himself neck-deep in new problems from his Justice Department’s attempts to intimidate and bully reporters from The Associated Press and Fox News. As is his wont, Holder worsened the situation by testifying to Congress about the AP phone record searches that “with regard to the potential prosecution of the press for disclosure of material, that is not something that I’ve ever been involved in, heard of or would think would be a wise policy.”



Barely moments later, we learned that Holder personally approved an affidavit for a search warrant into the email and phone records of Fox News’ James Rosen. That document described a news reporter as a “co-conspirator” who had “potential criminal liability” for seeking secrets from State Department contractor Stephen Kim.



Clearly, both statements — Holder’s testimony and his affidavit — could not be simultaneously true. Yet the Justice Department’s nonsensically parsed defense is that Holder did not lie to Congress because no one seriously intended to prosecute Rosen, despite the clear wording in the affidavit. Trying to smooth things over, Holder further embarrassed himself by inviting Washington bureau chiefs to discuss press freedoms — oh, but only off the record.



Yes, some overheated Republicans in Congress want to pursue perjury charges against Holder, an unlikely outcome and probably not worth the legal slog. The better outcome for governance and law enforcement is for everyone to admit the obvious: that Holder has surrendered his credibility and forfeited his authority to lead the Justice Department. He hurts the administration far more than he helps and risks devolving further into caricature.



The only lasting cure for the scandals surrounding the Obama administration is rebuilding trust with the governed. Those White House officials who say they are “apoplectic” about Holder and want the “politically maladroit” attorney general gone yesterday should have a firm talk with their boss.