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The Obama Justice Department’s Secret Blogging Team… Is it Illegal?

Written By : Warner Todd Huston
October 7, 2009

Obama’s Attorney General, Eric Holder, has apparently hired a cadre of left-wing, Democrat campaign bloggers to troll through the Internet looking for news stories and blog posts that denigrate the Obama agenda. After such websites are found it is the job of these secret lefty bloggers to leave comments that come to the support of Obamaism in the comments sections. It seems that Eric Holder has created his own little propaganda unit in a valiant effort to become the Bloggi Riefenstahl of the Obama era.

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As reported at The Muffled Oar, a blog that first broke the story of Holder’s secretive blogging unit — dubbed the “Blog Squad” by blogger Isaac Muzzey — Holder has housed this unit in the Office of Public Affairs at the Department of Justice. It also appears that former John Edwards staffer Tracy Russo is part of this special unit.

A site called whorunsgov.com reported back in May that DOJ hired Russo to do “media outreach for the whole department.” It is, according to whorunsgov.com, the first time such an effort has been made at DOJ.

Of Russo’s duties, The Muffled Oar says:

Not only is the Department of Justice Blog Squad going to reach out to nontraditional media like TPM Muckraker or the Muffled Oar, but they are also tasked with fostering anonymous comments at conservative leaning blogs such as the Free Republic. They are also tasked with fostering anonymous comments, or comments under pseudonyms, at newspaper websites with stories critical of the Department of Justice, Holder and President Obama.

If indeed this is what DOJ media outreach does it would most certainly qualify as “astroturfing.” Astroturfing is the action of using fake commenters and multiple screen names on all sorts of sites to push a similar opinion to create the appearance of a grass roots movement and make it seem as if there are all sorts of individuals naturally supporting a product or political movement.

It most certainly is a creepy, propagandistic sort of effort that Holder’s office is involved in and it is one that certainly seems an immoral one. After all, it most certainly is lying to the public if there are a handful of DOJ employees casting about on hundreds of different websites pretending that they are just your average citizen coming to the support of the Obama administration. But is it illegal? Hans von Spakovsky of National Review’s the corner blog certainly thinks so.

I doubt that the Office of Public Affairs (OPA) has received an ethics opinion from Justice’s Professional Responsibility Advisory Office (PRAO) saying that it is acceptable for OPA employees to be harassing critics of the department through postings that deliberately hide their DOJ affiliation (a practice that is not very “open” or “transparent”). DOJ lawyers also ought to be aware of ABA Model Rule of Professional Conduct 8.4, which states that it is professional misconduct for a lawyer to engage in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation. If the report in The Muffled Oar is correct, tax dollars are being used directly for such dishonest, deceitful behavior.

I must say, it’s hard to disagree with von Spakovsky (if that’s his real name! — a little joke there).

Mr. von Spakovsky also makes a perfectly pertinent point to wrap up his blog post on this matter. He wonders if the Obama administration will ever learn the difference between political campaign and the “entirely different responsibility it now has to enforce this nation’s laws in an objective, nonpartisan, nonpolitical manner”?

I think that the question is a good one. After all, after nearly a year in office, we have yet to see the end Obama’s constant blaming of Bush for every little problem he runs up against not to mention the constant campaign speeches and appearances on TV at every hour, day and night. One gets the uneasy feeling that President Barack Obama has yet to put in an actual day’s work as he constantly campaigns for office instead.

(Image credit: Associated Press/Lefteris Pitarakis – April 27, 2009)

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