Barrs old enough to remember when liberals didnt take governments word that spying on opponents was justified
By Michael Barone
Im amused by these people who make a living disclosing Classified Information including the names of Intelligence Operatives while wringing their hands about whether Im going to be responsible in protecting intelligence sources and methods" Attorney General William Barr told CBS News Jan Crawford during a recent and fascinating interview.
And he went on after further questions
Well the media reaction is strange. Normally the media would be interested in letting the sunshine in and finding out what the truth is.
And usually the media doesnt care that much about protecting intelligence sources and methods.
But I do and I will" said Barr.
In his testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee when Barr made the point that government spying" had occurred on the Trump campaign Democrats and the press expressed horror. Youre not supposed to say spying" apparently even though Democrats and media such as the New York Times have routinely used that word as a conveniently short and understandable synonym for government surveillance.
As Barr told Crawford spying is appropriate if its adequately predicated" and its unclear whether the spying on the Trump campaign was. Certainly the contents of the partisan and unverified Steele dossier would not have provided legitimate grounds on their own.
You dont have to have been in the business" for Barrs nearly 50 years to understand what he means.
Just flash back 13 years to June 2006 and read the New York Times revelations about the Swift bank procedures.
The Belgian-based Swift manages foreign currency transfers and after 9/11 the CIA and Treasury conducted data searches to spot and ultimately stop terrorist financing. The Times story conceded that this program was successful in obstructing terrorist activity and it identified no abuses.
Top administration officials pleaded with the Times not to publish the story and President George W. Bush said publication was disgraceful." Times editor Bill Kellers justification: the administrations" not the governments but the administrations extraordinary access to this vast repository of international financial data ... is a matter of public interest."
In other words the Times didnt care much about weakening Americas fight against terrorism by disclosing classified information and revealing intelligence sources and methods. It was more interested in letting the sunshine in on a program which to the best of its knowledge had infringed no ones rights.
Some called for prosecution of the Times for violating the Espionage Act of 1917 which criminalized the publication of classified information and was signed by President Woodrow Wilson two months after the U.S. entered World War I. But as Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan pointed out in his 1998 book Secrecy: The American Experience the Espionage Act is over-broad and the government tends to over-classify information including even newspaper articles.
Accordingly successive administrations up to and including George W. Bushs have declined to prosecute news media for publishing stories including leaks of classified information that seem clearly forbidden by the words of Woodrow Wilsons Espionage Act.
Abandoning that precedent perhaps surprisingly was the administration of President Barack Obama who described himself as a strong believer in the First Amendment" and dismissed stories about us cracking down on whistleblowers or whatnot" as a really small sample."
Actually they were an unprecedentedly large number. James Risen co-byliner on the Timess original Swift story wrote in December 2016 that the Obama administration has prosecuted nine cases involving whistleblowers and leakers compared with only three by all previous administrations combined."
Obamas Justice Department subpoenaed Associated Press phone records of AP trunk lines and 30 separate phones. It identified Fox News reporter James Rosen as a co-conspirator" in an Espionage Act leak case. The supposedly liberal and pro-First Amendment Obama administration was actively pursuing what the Columbia Journalism Review called a massive intrusion into newsgathering operations."
Its true that Obama did not emit as many tart words for the press in his eight years as president as Trump has in his two and a half. But Trump has come nowhere near to challenging Obamas record as the president most inclined to sic law enforcement on the press since Woodrow Wilson himself. Liberal Democrats arent necessarily the best friends of press freedom.
Nor it seems are they necessarily friends of a citizens right of privacy or a candidates right to seek public office without government surveillance.
Barr is old enough to remember when liberals did not take government legal or intelligence agencies word that spying on an administrations opponents was justified when they did not attack those who questioned it as unpatriotic.
He may be amused that such doings are self-righteously justified today.
But its good that hes willing to ask questions most of the media doesnt want asked to determine how the Obama law enforcement and intelligence agencies set about spying on the opposite partys presidential campaign.