As the controversy over the Department of Justice’s leak probe into the phone lines of Associated Press reporters grows, it’s important to separate legitimate concerns about the scope of the probe with the clear need for the investigation in the first place. Excessive freak-outs by those who liken the Obama administration’s behavior to Watergate fancifully ignore that the investigation was authorized by law as part of an inquiry into a serious crime. Congress could change the rules to prohibit any such infiltration of a media outlet, but that would require the Justice Department’s critics to actually delineate a line so sacrosanct that investigators can never cross it, no matter how damaging the leak. Attorney General Eric Holder’s foes are criticizing the AP search, but where would they draw the line?
I cannot judge the scope or depth of the investigation. It sounds like a lot of seizures, but without some comparative analysis, it isn’t clear whether DOJ started with a few and then expanded its inquiry to more lines as the investigation got bigger. I’m not bothered by claims that investigators picked up pizza orders or calls to friends; by their nature, investigations will pick up more information than is necessary. Under the rules, extraneous information is discarded.