WASHINGTON — Under fire over the Justice Department’s use of a broad subpoena to obtain calling records of Associated Press reporters in connection with a leak investigation, the Obama administration sought on Wednesday to revive legislation that would provide greater protections to reporters in keeping their sources and communications confidential.
President Barack Obama’s Senate liaison, Ed Pagano, on Wednesday morning called the office of Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., and asked him to reintroduce a version of a bill that he had pushed in 2009 called the Free Flow of Information Act, a White House official said.
The bill would create a federal media shield law, akin to ones most states already have, giving journalists some protections from penalties for refusing to identify confidential sources in federal law enforcement proceedings, and generally enabling journalists to ask a federal judge to quash subpoenas for their phone records.
Hours later, Attorney General Eric Holder appeared before the House Judiciary Committee for a hearing that covered a wide range of topics but repeatedly returned to the AP phone records. Lawmakers from both parties sought to grill him over why federal investigators secretly used a subpoena this year to obtain a broad swath of toll records — logs of calls sent and received — for several AP bureaus and reporters, without advance notice.
In a statement confirming that he would reintroduce the legislation, Schumer referred to the controversy over the subpoena of AP calling records, saying: “This kind of law would balance national security needs against the public’s right to the free flow of information. At minimum, our bill would have ensured a fairer, more deliberate process in this case.”
It is not clear whether such a law would have changed the outcome of the subpoena involving The AP.
Under the bill, the scope of protection for reporters would vary according to whether it was a civil case, an ordinary criminal case or a national security case.