WASHINGTON — The family of investigative reporter Jack Anderson is expressing relief that the government is no longer seeking to recover government documents that had been leaked to the late columnist during his long career.
According to Anderson's biographer, George Washington University journalism professor Mark Feldstein, he and family members had told the FBI there was no classified material in the hundreds of boxes holding Anderson's files.
The documents, which officials said might have contained classified information, were among the late columnist's confidential papers. They touched off a dispute between the FBI and the journalist's family and biographer.
"It was dusty old stuff that I couldn't imagine would be relevant to a criminal probe," Feldstein said.
The revelation that the government was backing off came in a letter dated Nov. 30, from Acting Associate Attorney General James H. Clinger, which was posted yesterday on the Web site of the Federation of American Scientists.
Clinger's letter was addressed to outgoing Senate Judiciary Chairman Arlen Specter, R-Pa. It did not explain why the FBI had dropped the probe, and a Republican aide to the committee said yesterday that it was also unclear to lawmakers.
In response to questions posed by the committee, Clinger wrote: "The FBI met with the Anderson family in an effort to review the files with their consent. At this time, the FBI is not seeking to reclaim any documents."
An FBI spokesman declined to comment last evening.
"We've been holding our breath, wondering if they were going to come after us further," Feldstein said. "I'm relieved to hear they have backed away from what I think was a pretty egregious overreach, to be going after papers of a dead reporter for classified documents from decades ago."
Anderson died at age 83 in December 2005, after a career in which he broke several big scandals and earned a place on former President Nixon's "enemies list." Authorities on several occasions tried to find the source of leaked information that became a staple of his syndicated column.
Not long after his funeral, FBI agents called Anderson's widow to say they wanted to search his papers.
At the time, the FBI confirmed it wanted to remove any classified materials from Anderson's archives, located at George Washington University, before they are made available to the public. An FBI spokesman said then that the bureau had determined that some of Anderson's papers contained classified information about sources and methods used by U.S. intelligence agencies.
Anderson's son and his biographer said they were questioned by agents who expressed interest in documents that would aid the government's case against two former lobbyists for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee who have been charged with disclosing classified information.