Unfortunately, both parties seem to ignore this rule when it suits them. Democrats did so routinely during the Bush years; now Republicans seem to be playing the same game over the Obama administration's investigation into national security leaks last May.
Republicans have gone into high dudgeon over the revelation that the Justice Department obtained the telephone records of news reporters in its criminal investigation of extremely damaging national security leaks in 2012. The investigation involves stories that appeared last May about a plot to blow up an airplane headed for the U.S.
On May 7, 2012, AP reporters revealed details of the plot, which included information that the U.S. had infiltrated al-Qaida in Yemen. I and other conservatives decried the leaks at the time. Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee Rep. Mike Rogers described the leak as "a catastrophe" and "a crime," which it certainly was. The leak not only jeopardized the life of the double agent who handed over the bomb to the CIA, but it also gave valuable insight into the sources and methods that are the intelligence community's crown jewels.
So why are Republicans now so eager to charge the administration with trampling the First Amendment in the investigation into these leaks? If investigators are serious about uncovering who leaked the information to the AP, it seems highly reasonable that searching phone records is a good way to go about it.
Investigators didn't eavesdrop on conversations; they simply checked call records -- not to prosecute journalists but to find out who passed on classified information that posed damaging threats to national security.
Attorney General Eric Holder, who rightly found himself in the congressional hot seat this week on other matters, was correct when he said: "This was a very serious leak. A very, very serious leak. I've been a prosecutor since 1976, and I have to say that this is among, if not the most serious, it is within the top two or three most serious leaks I've ever seen. It put the American people at risk. And that is not hyperbole. It put the American people at risk."
Ironically, if the investigation unearths the culprit or culprits, it is likely to be the administration that suffers embarrassment. Last year, Republicans were quick to assume the leaks occurred because someone in the administration wanted to portray the president as keeping America safe by killing terrorists and interrupting bomb plots, especially during the middle of the president's re-election campaign. They demanded that a special prosecutor be appointed, which the AG declined to do. Are Republicans now suggesting the administration was too aggressive in its investigation of these leaks?
Holder and others in the administration all the way up to the president have done plenty of things that deserve criticism. Republicans are right to investigate what went wrong in Benghazi and the later political manipulation of facts, why the IRS targeted conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status, how the administration has squandered billions of dollars in alternative energy grants -- the list could go on for several more lines. But they should exercise better judgment when blaming the administration for doing all it can to find out who leaked information on the bomb plot last May.
If investigators discover who leaked information on the Yemen operation, the guilty should be punished to the fullest extent of the law. And Republicans should commend -- not condemn -- the administration for a job well done. It goes beyond bipartisanship. It's simply the right thing to do.
Linda Chavez is the author of "An Unlikely Conservative: The Transformation of an Ex-Liberal." To find out more about Linda Chavez, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.
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Linda Chavez is chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity and author of Betrayal: How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics .
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