EDITORIAL: Seizure of AP phone records tramples on press freedom

Americans should be very concerned about President Barack Obama's passion for secrecy and his disregard for the U.S. Constitution.

The man who once campaigned for the presidency by promising transparency is looking more and more like the second coming of Richard Nixon.

From drone assassinations to failed attempts to whitewash the Benghazi tragedy to the secret seizure of phone records of Associated Press reporters and editors, the president and his administration have shown contempt for the very principles of our democracy.

Though we don't often agree with Darrell Issa, the conservative congressman from Southern California who heads the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, he hit the nail on the head when he said, "Americans should take notice that top Obama administration officials increasingly see themselves as above the law and emboldened by the belief that they don't have to answer to anyone."

Even when Obama team members do answer, truth can be elusive. Take, for example, Attorney General Eric Holder's statement that the AP's May 2012 story on the CIA's foiling of a Yemen-based terror plot involved "the top two or three most serious leaks that I have ever seen."

In response to Holder's comments on Tuesday, Associated Press CEO Gary Pruitt said, "We held that story until the government assured us that the national security concerns had passed. Indeed, the White House was preparing to publicly announce that the bomb plot had been foiled."

Pruitt additionally pointed out that the article was important because it refuted White House assertions that there had been no al-Qaida plots around the first anniversary of Osama bin Laden's killing.

There are times when the Department of Justice must subpoena a reporter's records or notes. But strict rules accompany these rare situations. The rules weren't followed by Holder's office in its attempt to find out the AP's source or sources for the Yemen story. Federal prosecutors instead went on a fishing expedition that has compromised the ability of the news organization to do its job.

With more than three years remaining in Obama's second term, Americans need a free press to serve as their ears, eyes and watchdog of an imperial presidency.