Persecuted New York Times journalist James Risen accused U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder of being the "nation's top censorship officer" in a searing rebuke to comments made by Holder on Tuesday that the way his department handled the case of the now-imprisoned CIA whistleblower Jeffrey Sterling should exemplify "how the Justice Department can proceed."
Holder made the comments at the National Press Club on Tuesday when answering a question about the DOJ's crackdown on leaks and whistleblowers. After years of doggedly pursuing Risen's testimony against Sterling, the DOJ finally dropped their case after Risen vowed he would go to jail rather than reveal his source. The prize-winning journalist has previously described the Obama administration as "the greatest enemy of press freedom in a generation."
"If you look at the last case involving Mr. Risen," Holder said, "the way in which that case was handled after the new policies were put in place [is] an example of how the Justice Department can proceed."
During his comments, Holder further argued that the Department of Justice has been lenient on government whistleblowers, despite the fact that his office under the Obama Administration has overseen more prosecution of such leaks under the Espionage Act than every other administration combined.
"We have tried to be appropriately sensitive in bringing those cases that warranted prosecution," Holder said. "We have turned away, I mean, turned away substantially greater number of cases that were presented to us where prosecution was sought."
After the comments were made public, Risen took to Twitter and unleashed a series of comments exposing what he said was Holder's "true legacy on press freedom."
Eric Holder has been the nation's top censorship officer, not the top law enforcement officer.— James Risen (@JamesRisen) February 18, 2015
Eric Holder has done the bidding of the intelligence community and the White House to damage press freedom in the United States.— James Risen (@JamesRisen) February 18, 2015
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Eric Holder has sent a message to dictators around the world that it is okay to crack down on the press and jail journalists.— James Risen (@JamesRisen) February 18, 2015
Eric Holder leaves behind a wrecked First Amendment.— James Risen (@JamesRisen) February 18, 2015
Eric Holder managed to destroy any semblance of a reporters privilege in the United States.— James Risen (@JamesRisen) February 18, 2015
This is Eric Holder's true legacy on press freedom: "There is no First Amendment "reporter's privilege." From DOJ brief in my case.— James Risen (@JamesRisen) February 18, 2015
The episode concluded with Risen saying that he intends to spend the rest of his life "fighting to undo the damage done to press freedom" by Holder and President Barack Obama.
Risen was not alone in his response.
Trevor Timm, executive director of the Freedom of the Press Foundation, quipped: "New DOJ model: Harass and spy on journalist for years, make him spend a fortune in legal fees, drop case last second."
Later, in a lengthier post, Timm unpacked the Obama Administration's "deplorable" behavior on the case, concluding that the DOJ has "done damage to long term press freedom rights that will be very hard to undo, and the idea that this should be looked at as a 'model for future leak investigations' is troubling to say the least."