The White House press corps posed several angry questions to Obama administration spokesperson Jay Carney about the James Rosen case in his daily briefing Monday. The Washington Post revealed Sunday that Rosen, who works for the Fox News Channel, had been the target of unusual surveillance by the Department of Justice, which treated his reports on North Korea as potential crimes against national security.
Showing unusual fight, reporters such as Jonathan Karl of ABC News and Major Garrett of CBS News were visibly angry as they challenged Carney’s evasive responses. Carney refused to condemn or comment on the way in which the Department of Justice had treated Rosen, other than to emphasize President Barack Obama’s general support for the First Amendment and to stress that the case was an ongoing criminal investigation.
A stunned Garrett asked Carney whether he considered the ordinary activity of journalism–which relies on administration sources–to be a crime. Carney ducked, emphasizing the importance of preventing national security leaks. Carney also provoked frustration among reporters after revealing that senior White House staffers knew about a probe into the IRS scandal. Last week, he only said the White House counsel had known.
Journalists were surprised at Carney’s insistence that senior staff had known several weeks prior to the release of the Inspector General’s report, but that they had not told President Obama–and that withholding such information was entirely “appropriate.” When Carney insisted that the president had shown “outrage,” he was reminded that the president’s outrage only came after the IRS scandal was made public–not when it was known internally.
Update: Another journalist challenged Carney to explain what he would have done had he, as a former journalist, faced the sort of crackdown at Time for reporting on the Valeria Plame scandal that Rosen faced at Fox News for writing about North Korea. Carney declined to answer the question, calling it a “hypothetical,” and referred further questions to the Department of Justice due to the ongoing criminal investigation into Rosen.