WASHINGTON — Lawmakers chided Attorney General Michael Mukasey yesterday for claiming national security concerns in opposing legislation that would allow reporters to protect the identities of confidential sources.
"Ten angels swearing on Bibles that that bill is harmless would not change the provisions that are in it," Mukasey told the House Judiciary Committee.
A few minutes later, Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind., defended the bill he said was carefully written to discourage leaks of classified or other sensitive information that could risk security. Without it, he said, long-standing press freedoms would be threatened.
"If 10 angels swearing on Bibles wouldn't change your view of this bill, would 40 American journalists subpoenaed, questioned or held in contempt do it?" Pence asked.
"This is a constitutional statutory response to a rising erosion of our First Amendment freedom of the press," Pence added.
Mukasey, who once successfully represented the New York Daily News in a libel case, said he was open to considering compromises. But he said current laws limiting the government's ability to force reporters to reveal their sources are adequate.
"I'm not willing to take steps that will essentially do more to protect the leakers than it does to protect journalists," he said.