The Obama administration woke up on Tuesday to another morning of scorching criticism about the Justice Department's decision to secretly obtain months of Associated Press phone records.
The DOJ tracked the incoming and outgoing calls on more than 20 AP phone lines, as well as the home, office and cell phone lines for six individual journalists involved in writing a national security-related story about Yemen that the Obama administration did not want them to write.
The operation has been roundly condemned by journalists and press freedom groups. That condemnation continued on Monday night and Tuesday morning.
Reporters Without Borders called the probe an "extremely grave violation of freedom of information.”
NBC News' Michael Isikoff quoted a whistleblower advocate who made the dreaded comparison to Richard Nixon:
"The Justice Department’s seizure of the Associated Press’ phone records is Nixonian," said Danielle Brian, executive director of the Project on Government Oversight, a group that advocates on behalf of whistleblowers. "The American public deserves a full accounting of why and how this could happen."
Speaking to Rachel Maddow on Tuesday night, Isikoff explained further why people were so alarmed.
"It is not unprecedented for the Justice Department to secretly get the numbers of reporters," he said. "What's remarkable is the sweeping nature of this, the dragnet approach ... and that's why you have some press watchdog groups tonight, and freedom of the press groups saying this is positively Nixonian. They have not seen a precedent for this in decades."
Others also zeroed in on the link. Buzzfeed editor Ben Smith even put up a GIF that showed Obama transforming into Nixon in his article on the scandal.
Smith wrote that the nuclear nature of the probe could, in part, be traced back to Obama, who has made it a policy to aggressively go after leaks in a fashion not seen in any of his predecessors. Though the White House said it had nothing to do with the probe and referred reporters to the Justice Department, Smith wrote that it was not hard to see Obama's hand in some way:
Elements of this approach, Obama’s friends and foes agree, come from the top. Obama is personally obsessed with leaks, to the extent that his second chief of staff, Bill Daley, took as one of his central mandates a major and ill-fated plumbing expedition. Attorney General Eric Holder, who pressed the leak policy, is a trusted Obama insider.
Writing for the Freedom of the Press Foundation, Trevor Timm also said that the scandal was one of the White House's own making.
"The White House created this war-on-leaks monster," he wrote. "Congress has only encouraged its expansion, instead of investigating the wrongdoing that many of the leaks exposed. And now, it’s out of control."
On Tuesday, AP executive editor Kathleen Carroll underscored just how stunning the Justice Department's actions were.
"I've been in this business for more than 30 years," she said on "Morning Joe." "Our First Amendment lawyers, and our lawyers inside the AP, and our CEO, who's also a well-known First Amendment lawyer, none of us have ever seen anything like this."
Speaking on the same program, famed Watergate reporter Carl Bernstein was even more scathing, calling the operation "inexcusable."
"This administration has been terrible on this issue from the beginning," he said. "The object of it is to intimidate people who talk to reporters ... there's no excuse for it whatsoever." He added that it was "nonsense" to say that the White House would have been unaware of such a probe.
"This is a policy matter, and this does go to the president," he said. "There is no reason that a presidency that is interested in a truly free press and its functioning should permit this to happen."
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