The White House says it needed to spy on the Associated Press, because it needed to find out the source of a damaging leak. But the Washington Post looked at the affair and found that the leak wasn’t actually damaging, at least not to national security.
It turns out the AP agreed to hold its story until the danger had passed. What upset the administration so much is the AP refused to hold its story until after the White House had had a chance to brag about the bust:
For five days, reporters at the Associated Press had been sitting on a big scoop about a foiled al-Qaeda plot at the request of CIA officials. Then, in a hastily scheduled Monday morning meeting, the journalists were asked by agency officials to hold off on publishing the story for just one more day.
The CIA officials, who had initially cited national security concerns in an attempt to delay publication, no longer had those worries, according to individuals familiar with the exchange. Instead, the Obama administration was planning to announce the successful counterterrorism operation that Tuesday.
AP balked and proceeded to publish that Monday afternoon.
(Emphasis mine.) The details are quite astonishing. After the AP had sat on the story for five days (and was asked to sit on it for a sixth day), the White House wouldn’t agree to let them have an exclusive for even one hour. The White House would let them have the exclusive for at most five minutes. Understandably, the AP told them to hell with that.
In light of that, the Justice Department’s action doesn’t sound at all like they were investigating a leak that put the public at risk. It sounds much more like retaliation for refusing to play ball.