Risen’s 2008 subpoena expired with the term of the grand jury. Media watchers and intelligence officials presumed that the Merlin investigation would go the way of most fruitless searches. But after reviewing leftover leak cases from the Bush administration, the Obama Justice Department decided to revive this one. In April of this year, Risen received another subpoena to appear before the grand jury in Alexandria. [...] According to one former official, the government believes it has already identified a suspect, which could make Risen’s testimony not only unnecessary but also a violation of the department’s own guidelines on media subpoenas.
To view the administration’s aggressive pursuit of leakers and journalists as an artifact of the current presidency, or as some kind of extension of Obama’s innate intolerance for airing private disagreements, is to miss the greater influence that career government officials have over which cases to bring, and whom to subpoena.
“So much of the decision-making is made by the middle layers of the bureaucracy,” Feldstein says. “They function on autopilot. The career prosecutors don’t change from year to year. Their recommendations are probably the same whether Eric Holder is attorney general or Alberto Gonzales.”
The Justice Department is taking advantage of President Obama’s disdain for leaks by flexing a muscle that it’s been building for almost ten years as the tide has shifted from a protected press establishment toward a stronger prosecutorial force.
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