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Secret meetings a bad approach

Editorial

Attorney General Eric Holder asked news organizations to meet and discuss how the Justice Department handles its investigations involving reporters with one stipulation:

The meetings would be off the record.

To their credit, news organizations including the Associated Press, Reuters, The New York Times, Fox News and CNN declined the invitation.

The Obama administration has plenty of explaining to do on the way it conducts business, from the Benghazi attacks that resulted in the deaths of the U.S. ambassador to Libya and three others to the IRS chilling free speech of conservative organizations by holding them to a much higher level of scrutiny than liberal organizations.

The third leg (so far) of the federal debacle is the way the Justice Department, with the help of a little judge shopping, seized Associated Press records and investigated a Fox News reporter who the department labeled as a criminal co-conspirator.

Holder already is on the hot seat with congressional Republicans over his May 15 statement at a congressional hearing where he denied any involvement in a decision to pursue a criminal investigation of a reporter and stated that such a policy wouldn’t be wise. It turns out that Holder signed off on the decision to ask for a search warrant for Fox News email and telephone records.

That begs the question of whether the chief law enforcement officer of the federal government lied to Congress. Frankly, that wouldn’t be much of a surprise in an administration that is rapidly becoming known for having a Nixonian level of transparency.

And transparency, which President Obama has hollowly promised his administration would have, would hardly come from a meeting between an attorney general and news organizations that could not be reported to the public. While there are legitimate reasons for conducting off-the-record meetings with public officials, this is not one of them.

Holder does need to explain his actions and the actions of the people he is responsible for supervising. But that explanation doesn’t need to be made in secret.

The American public deserves to know what is going on. Government is best when it is conducted out in the sunshine. It’s high time that sunlight again shone on our nation’s capital.