Obama overreaches on AP phone records

May 14, 2013 

"Rush Limbaugh warned you about this -- second term, baby." President Obama was joking about his entrance music at the recent Washington Correspondents Dinner, but he could have been referring to his administration's all-out assault on the First Amendment.

Obama's Justice Department just notified The Associated Press that it obtained two months worth of phone records from some of its Washington-based reporters, office and home. Apparently they're looking for the source of a leak on a thwarted al Qaida bomb plot.

Attorney General Eric Holder recused himself and let an underling make the call. Obama claims he didn't know in advance. How convenient.

Justice obtained the records without first notifying the AP, which meant the news organization didn't get to go to court to try to stop this unprecedented overreach. A judge might have blocked this action, or at least made Justice narrow its request. We'll never know, though, because the administration sidestepped judicial review.

We all should be appalled by these heavy-handed tactics. The First Amendment is one of our most cherished rights, as is our right to private conversations. This wide casting of nets is designed to have a chilling effect on whistleblowers and journalists' ability to do their job. Anonymous sources are crucial to finding out about coverups, questionable policies and other things presidents want kept secret. Remember Watergate?

Obama isn't just obtaining phone records, he's sending a message: Pick up the phone and talk to a reporter and we'll use our power to find out your identity.

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