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Wanted: A new attorney general

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Wanted: A new attorney general

Attorney General Eric Holder glances back at invited guests while leaving after speaking during the Office of Inspector Generals annual awards ceremony, Wednesday, May 29, 2013, at the Justice Department in Washington.

A Justice Department official insisted Wednesday that Attorney General Eric Holder has a “long-standing belief that protecting and defending the First Amendment is essential to our democracy.” That’s hard to reconcile with the department’s wide-ranging wiretapping of Associated Press editors and reporters last year.

Also hard to reconcile is President Barack Obama’s decision to assign the investigation into that appalling Justice Department overreach to Mr. Holder. And this week’s offer by the attorney general to news agencies to discuss how his department should handle leaks investigations — but only “off the record” — was simply laughable.

Huffington Post’s Washington bureau chief, Ryan Grim, put it well to CNN: “A conversation specifically about the freedom of the press should be an open one.”

Even some of the administration’s usual apologists have condemned the Justice Department’s heavy-handed investigation of the AP, in search of leaks about a foiled al-Qaida plot in Yemen, as a flagrant abuse of the First Amendment.

But Mr. Holder’s problems extend far beyond Justice’s secret surveillance of journalists.

The attorney general, while under oath before congressional committees (that’s on the record), has revealed at least one, and perhaps all three, of these shortcomings: 1) a remarkably bad memory, 2) glaring incompetence as an administrator, 3) an intent to deceive.

For instance, on May 15 Mr. Holder told the House Judiciary Committee that he was unaware of “the potential prosecution of the press for the disclosure of material.”

Then last week, news reports indicated that Mr. Holder had signed off on a 2009 affidavit seeking a subpoena on Fox News reporter James Rosen. That affidavit identified Mr. Rosen as a “possible co-conspirator” in the criminal leak of material regarding North Korea.

The White House tried to deflect that latest blow to the attorney general’s ever-eroding credibility by pointing out that Mr. Rosen was not prosecuted. And Mr. Holder testified that he was unaware of any “potential prosecution of the press.” But if the affidavit he approved identifying Mr. Rosen as a possible criminal “co-conspirator” didn’t qualify as “potential prosecution,” what would?

Another case of the attorney general being at best an incompetent and at worst a liar: In May 2011, he told the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee that he had only known about his department’s “Fast and Furious” operation for a few weeks.

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Documents later surfaced showing that the attorney general had been sent, in the summer of 2010, briefings on the ill-advised operation, which provided guns to Mexican drug cartels (seriously).

The House oversight panel, after repeated refusals by the attorney general to release many of the Fast and Furious documents it requested, held him in contempt of Congress last summer.

Mr. Holder’s office countered that the panel’s contempt vote was along party lines and dismissed the rebuke as “an election-year tactic intended to distract attention.”

Yes, political motives dominate in Washington. Still, a growing number of liberals have joined conservatives in calling for Mr. Holder’s ouster.

It’s time for the attorney general finally to be held accountable for his failures to uphold his high office’s obligations.

Unfortunately, a lack of accountability is the common denominator in the Obama administration’s ongoing scandals. A high-ranking Internal Revenue Service official recently refused to answer Congress’ questions about her division’s targeting of conservative groups. And the White House is still ducking crucial questions about last Sept. 11’s terrorist attack on the U.S. diplomatic facility in Benghazi, Libya.

But at least the buck-passing attorney general’s days in his job appear numbered.

In a column in Wednesday’s USA Today, Jonathan Turley, a high-profile — and liberal — George Washington University law professor, decried both the attorney general’s “refusal to accept responsibility” and his supervision over “a comprehensive erosion of privacy rights, press freedom and due process.”

Prof. Turley wrote: “Unlike the head of the RNC, I am neither a Republican nor conservative, and I believe Holder should be fired.”

Mr. Holder should spare the president that overdue task by resigning.

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