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Bush officials mount campaign against media-shield bill

By The Associated Press
04.04.08

WASHINGTON — Attorney General Michael Mukasey and three other top Bush administration officials are weighing in against legislation that would allow reporters to protect the identities of confidential sources who provide sensitive, sometimes embarrassing information about the government.

The "Free Flow of Information Act" proposed by Republican Sen. Arlen Specter could harm national security and would encourage more leaks of classified information, the four officials wrote in letters to senators made public yesterday.

The legislation gives an overly broad definition of journalists that "can include those linked to terrorists and criminals," wrote Mukasey and National Intelligence Director Mike McConnell.

"All individuals and entities who 'gather' or 'publish' information about 'matters of public interest' but who are not technically designated terrorist organizations, foreign powers or agents of a foreign power will be entitled to the bill's protections," Mukasey and McConnell stated in their joint letter.

Specter, the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, responded: "My staff met today with DNI and DoJ officials regarding the concerns expressed in the letter, and we are considering them."

"I think the legislation has an important purpose," Specter added. "I think we can make reasonable accommodations to their concerns, and we're working on it."

In a separate letter, Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the nation would be more vulnerable to "adversaries' counterintelligence efforts to recruit" those shielded by the bill.

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said the bill would create roadblocks to gathering information "from anyone who can claim to be a journalist, including bloggers" and Internet service providers.

The opposition of the top Bush administration officials follows recent high-profile episodes in which reporters have fought efforts to reveal their government sources.

Former USA Today reporter Toni Locy is seeking to reverse a contempt of court citation for refusing to reveal her Justice Department and FBI sources for stories about the criminal investigation of the 2001 anthrax attacks.

Among the government leakers of CIA operative Valerie Plame's identity, it turns out, were President Bush's then-top political adviser, Karl Rove, and Vice President Dick Cheney's former chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby.

Former New York Times reporter Judith Miller spent 85 days in jail for refusing to identify Libby to investigators.

The leaks of Plame's identity occurred after Plame's husband publicly accused the administration of twisting prewar intelligence to exaggerate the Iraqi threat.

Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald eventually won convictions against Libby for perjury, obstruction and lying to the FBI. Bush commuted Libby's 30-month prison sentence.

Co-sponsors on the bill include Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy and Sens. Barbara Boxer, Christopher Dodd, Charles Schumer and Tim Johnson, all Democrats; along with Republican Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Richard Lugar of Indiana.

“We've already sought to address these security concerns in a careful way," Schumer said in a statement. "The administration ought to overcome its visceral dislike of the media and do the right thing."


Update
Lawmakers chide attorney general for opposition to shield bill
Michael Mukasey tells House committee that current laws limiting government's ability to force reporters to reveal sources are adequate. 07.24.08

Previous
House votes to give journalists shield for confidential sources
Co-sponsor Mike Pence, R-Ind., says measure 'is not about protecting reporters, it's about protecting the public's right to know.' 10.17.07

Related

Reporter's lawyers ask D.C. Circuit to reverse contempt citation

Attorneys for Toni Locy call fines 'destructive sanctions,' say federal judge has abused his discretion. 03.31.08

Hawaii legislators pass journalist shield bill
Measure, which awaits governor's approval, would cover both traditional reporters and online writers who can prove they are serving the public interest. 04.30.08

Attorneys general back federal media shield
37 state officials sign on to letter; measure faces uncertain future in Senate as some Republicans strongly oppose bill allowing reporters to protect sources. 06.20.08

Justice Dept. to pay Hatfill $5.8 million to settle lawsuit
Deal may make contempt order and $5,000-a-day fines against USA Today reporter Toni Locy moot. 06.30.08

Protecting reporters' privilege?
By Alicia Armbruster Study finds current version of bill proposing federal shield law would solve key concerns among journalists trying to protect confidential sources. 04.12.07

Journalist ‘shield’ – balancing openness, security
By Gene Policinski Under a Senate bill, journalists would be protected from having to reveal confidential sources — but not if they witnessed a crime or if there were an imminent threat to life or national security. 10.07.07

Libby’s legacy: The conservative case for a national shield law
By Michael Berry Prosecutors aren't just subpoenaing reporters in cases where national security might be compromised — they're going after reporters’ sources for stories on athletes’ steroid use and street protests. 01.18.08

Shield laws


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