May 15, 2013

Both parties challenge Eric Holder over news service subpoenas

By Donna Cassata and Pete Yost / The Associated Press

(Continued from page 1)

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Attorney General Eric Holder testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington on Wednesday before the House Judiciary Committee oversight hearing on the Justice Department.

The Associated Press

"That is inappropriate and is too consistent with the way in which you conduct yourself as a member of Congress. It's unacceptable and it's shameful," Holder told Issa.

The congressman ignored the comments and continued to question Holder.

Responding to news of the gathering of AP records, Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., planned to revive a 2009 media shield bill that protects journalists and their employers from having to reveal information, including the identity of sources who had been promised confidentiality.

The bill does contain some exceptions in instances of national security.

"This kind of law would balance national security needs against the public's right to the free flow of information," Schumer said in a statement. "At minimum, our bill would have ensured a fairer, more deliberate process in this case."

The White House threw its support behind the push Wednesday morning, with Ed Pagano, President Obama's liaison to the Senate, placing a call to Schumer's office to ask him to revive the bill – a step the senator had planned to take. White House spokesman Jay Carney said Obama "believes strongly we need to provide the protection to the media that this legislation would do."

Obama's support for the bill signaled an effort by the White House to show action in the face of heated criticism from lawmakers from both parties and news organizations about his commitment to protecting civil liberties and freedom of the press.

White House officials have said they are unable to comment publicly on the incident at the heart of the controversy because the Justice Department's leak probe essentially amounts to a criminal investigation of administration officials.

It's not clear whether such a law would have prevented the government from gathering the AP phone records as it would depend on the provisions in the bill and how they were written.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence committee, said Wednesday that the leak was "within the most serious leaks because it definitely endangered some lives."

Feinstein said it was her understanding that the information gathering did not focus on the "content of phone calls," but rather "to see who reporters have spoken to, that somebody did provide this information with respect to this bomb."

On Wednesday, the leaders of the news organization whose members cover Congress told Cole that "your agency has not provided adequate reason for this disconcerting action."

"We are concerned the incursions by the Justice Department in this case jeopardize the relationship between reporters and anonymous sources, decreasing the likelihood that people will come forward with vital information of public importance," the representatives of the Congressional press galleries said in a letter.

"The press must be secure in its ability to conduct its business," the letter stated. "This critical work of reporters is protected by the First Amendment. Please explain how this unparalleled use of your investigative power is constitutionally consistent."

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