After this item late last night.
The scandals we are talking about in Washington today are not tied to the individual of Barack Obama. While there's still more information to be gathered and more investigations to be done, all indications are that these decisions - on the AP, on the IRS, on Benghazi - don't proceed from him. The talk of impeachment is absurd. The queries of "what did the president know and when did he know it" will probably end up finding out "just about nothing, and right around the time everyone else found out."
3) Many, many readers are unhappy with my assertion last night that the AP leak investigation is the one of these episodes that should be held against the president. Samples:
Is it your position that any government official should be able to leak any classified information to a journalist with impunity even when that leak endangers lives and compromises national security? Where are your boundaries?
I don't think you're really grappling with President Obama's argument in favor of the leak investigation. His argument is straightforward: revealing national security secrets is a matter of life and death for Americans overseas. Anyone who reveals those secrets should be arrested and prosecuted as a matter of justice and deterrence. That's a solid argument, and for you to rebut Obama by talking about the lessons of history is an exercise in evasion. When Aldrich Ames exposed the names of CIA agents and sources to the Soviet Union, those agents and sources were promptly arrested and executed. It seems very likely that the wikileaks data dumps had the same result, especially since Julian Assange refused to redact any of the information. The Bradley Manning court case has been an embarrassment, but it's hard to argue that the federal government should not have moved heaven and earth to find the culprit and prosecute him.
I could be persuaded that AG Holder was wrong ... and that President Obama was wrong in backing him. But I am skeptical that the verdict of history is self-evidently against the president, who after all does have a responsibility to protect national security. One of the temptations that presidents should avoid is worrying about looking better in history's eyes. As you know, history is greatly influenced by journalists, who have a certain conflict of interest on issues like this. I am sure the President would rather not prevent journalists from talking to sources (in contrast to President Bush, who would have been overjoyed to send a few journalists to prison), but it's not his top priority. Should it be? You still have to do the hard work of arguing that this tactic, in this instance, was misguided.
Several people also pointed out this item, by Kevin Drum, on why the government took such a hard line in this leak case (although they've been consistently hard on leakers all along). And a university math professor said, in response to my claim that "secrets always get out," "My jaw dropped reading that, given the selection bias inherent in the claim!" (If I had said "all secrets always get out," I would have to respond Touché. My point is that every president has had to cope with "shocking" and "dangerous" releases of classified information.)
In explanation of my own hard-line tone, let me be more precise. On the "Administration's side" of the case, I recognize these points:
1) Leaks can do genuine, terrible damage -- mainly by exposing vulnerable informants and sources, in the way Kevin Drum explains. One reason I was never a fan of the Wikileaks approach is that I knew how many sources in China, in particular, were likely to be harmed by this indiscriminate info-dump.