The power of the federal government must be balanced with individual constitutional protections. Otherwise, the government runs the risk of politicizing its basic functions and becoming a force that suppresses civil liberties.
That is the case with the Justice Department seizing phone records from Associated Press (AP) reporters, in order to discover a leak considered a matter of national security. And it is also the case for the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) specifically targeting political organizationsamong them, some Tea Party onesfor audits.
In both cases, these are unacceptable interferences that the Obama administration must address clearly and forcefully.
In the first case, the AP should have been asked from the beginning to cooperate in the investigation of a news leak that endangered an intelligence source in Yemen. It is reasonable to conduct an aggressive inquiry given the seriousness of the case, but that does not mean holding a fishing expedition that involves the phone records of dozens of reporters.
This type of action has an intimidating effect in wanting to break into a basic relationshipbetween journalists and their confidential sourcesthat allows the flow of information to the public.
In the second case, using the IRS for political purposes is not new, but that does not make it acceptable. This is an abuse of power that destroys the credibility the IRS needs. It is illegal harassment based on political motivations that are reprehensible no matter how you look at it.
The IRS will probably provide technical explanations, but there is no justification for selectively acting against political rivals. This incident must be thoroughly investigated and those responsible should lose their jobs.
Actions like these from the Justice Department and the IRS feed the image of an out-of-control federal government, similar to the stereotype depicted by conservative groups. It is urgent to conduct the needed investigations and take the steps required for the White House to make it clear that these are unacceptable abuses.