AG Eric Holder in ’08: There is ‘no tension’ between fighting terrorism and honoring civil liberties

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Politics,Beltway Confidential,Sean Higgins,Justice,Homeland Security,Eric Holder highlights a speech Attorney General Eric Holder gave to the American Constitution Society in 2008. It’s message stands in a marked contrast to the news that the Justice Department under Holder secretly obtained phone records (including the cell and home phone number records) of Associated Press journalists.

In the ’08 speech, Holder says:

To those in the executive branch who say “just trust us” when it comes to secret and warrantless surveillance of domestic communications I say “remember your history.”

In my lifetime federal officials wiretapped, harassed, and blackmailed Martin Luther King and other civil rights leaders in the name of national security. One of America’s greatest heroes, whom today we honor with a national holiday and countless streets and schools and soon a monument in his name, was treated like a criminal by those in our federal government possessed of too much discretion and a warped sense of patriotism.

Watergate revealed similar abuses during the Nixon administration. These and other government abuses of power lead the Congress to enact the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978, FISA. We must utilize and enhance our intelligence collection capabilities to identify and to root out terrorists.

But we must also comply with the Law. We must also comply with FISA. If the defense, law enforcement and intelligence communities are in agreement that FISA is too cumbersome to identify and combat terrorist activity, the next president should work with Congress to improve the law or give additional resources to the court that supervises the FISA statute or to the Justice Department.

Those who tell us that we must engage in warrantless domestic surveillance,  that we must engage in enhanced interrogation or that we must engage in extraordinary rendition or that we will cripple ourselves in combating terrorism offer a false choice. There is simply no tension — there is no tension — between an effective fight against those who have sworn to harm us and a respect for our most honored civil liberties tradition. 

We can never put the welfare of the American people at risk but we can also never choose actions that we know will weaken the legal and moral fiber of our nation. If we do, we forget who we are as a country and we will face far more terrorists and not fewer. (All emphasis added.)

That was waaaaaaay back in 2008. This afternoon, Holder was recused  from a Justice Department investigation into the Associated Press affair. He explained:

“I was one of the people who had knowledge of this matter. I have frequent contact with the media,” Holder said. He said he stepped aside “to try to make sure this was independent and to avoid even the possibility of the appearance of a conflict.”

“I would have been the person leading the investigation,” Holder added. “It just seemed better to me to step out.”

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Sean Higgins

Senior Writer
The Washington Examiner