Give embattled U.S. Attorney Eric Holder credit on one score. He’s managed to do something his boss hasn’t — unite Republicans and Democrats.

Leaders from both parties have been blasting Holder and the Obama Administration all week after last Friday’s revelation that the federal government had secretly seized personal and work phone records from as many as 100 reporters and editors assigned to at least three offices of the Associated Press, one of the nation’s most respected news organizations. The records were part of a two-month fishing expedition seeking the source of leaks of “highly classified material.”

U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, Oregon’s lone Republican on Capitol Hill, called the sweep of phone records “chilling and unprecedented.”

Oregon’s senior U.S. Senator, Democrat Ron Wyden, issued a prepared statement saying “the open and informed debate that our democracy depends upon requires that journalists — including those who write about sensitive national security issues — be able to do their jobs without the fear of being subjected to government surveillance.”

Both lawmakers are right.

There is a delicate balance between the rights of a free press to do its job and the need of federal government to protect the safety of citizens. But in this case, the U.S. Attorney’s office has stomped on the First Amendment and a protocol governing subpoenas of news organizations, established 41 years ago.

Under those guidelines, government investigators subpoenaing media records must keep their search narrow and provide notice to the news organization in advance, unless such disclosure would jeopardize the investigation.

Since Holder won’t reveal what his snooping investigators were looking for, there’s no way to know why the AP was notified that its phone records were being reviewed.

In effect, Holder is asking us to trust him while implying the AP editors couldn’t be trusted.

It’s not just journalists who are bristling at that assertion.

“The Department of Justice has rules in place that are supposed to prevent legitimate law enforcement activities from undermining freedom of the press,” Wyden noted. “It is the responsibility of the Justice Department to explain to Congress and the public how the broad surveillance that has been reported could possibly be consistent with those rules.”

Walden, for his part, asked an even more pointed question while talking to FOX News’ Lou Dobbs.

“If they’ve done it to AP, have they done it to others and we just don’t know about it yet?”

John Schrag is publisher of the Forest Grove News-Times and the Hillsboro Tribune.

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