Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee, said Wednesday he plans to reintroduce the Free Flow of Information Act, the federal shield law bill that twice passed the House over the past few years before being stalled in the Senate.
That move was prompted by the Department of Justice's seizure of AP reporter and editor phone records, according to AP, without informing the news operation.
At a Justice Department oversight hearing with attorney general Eric Holder, Conyers said he was "troubled by the notion that our government would pursue such a broad array of media phone records over such a long period of time."
Conyers said the shield law, if it had been in effect, would require the government to show cause before compelling disclosure of the sort of information from the news media that was at issue with the AP record collection.
He also pointed out that 49 states and D.C. have shield laws.Holder said he agrees that the shield law "continues to be something I think should pass."
The Society of Professional Journalists has also called for the passage of the shield law in the wake of the AP record collection.
Conyers said he was pleased that some who had been outwardly critical of the shield bill in the past were now criticizing Justice over the AP phone record sweep. He also suggested that he had the support for reintroducing the bill from Rep. Darrel Issa (R-Calif.).
During questioning, Holder had little to say about the issue, pointing out he had been recused from the decision to collect the info because he was a fact witness in the case as one of those who posessed the information that was leaked to AP. He said did not know why the subpoena was done the way it was done, but had faith in those who did make that decision.
Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), chair of committee, tried to press the attorney general, saying that one of the requirements was that AP have notice of the collection and a chance to negotiate the release. He suggested not doing either "appeared to be contrary to the law and standard procedure."
Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) pressed Holder on who did authorize the subpoena for AP records. Holder at first did not know but later said he had confirmed it was deputy attorney general James Cole.
Sensenbrenner also asked why there were no negotiations with AP first, as was the rule. Holder said there were exceptions in cases where it could jeopardize the investigation.
Standing up for Holder was Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY). He said that a year ago Republicans were demanding that the Administration aggressively investigate leaks and wanted reporters subpoenaed and even jailed. Now, he said, it was convenient for them to attack the attorney general for being too aggressive. That said, Nadler said he believed there were legitimate concerns that needed addressing and he added his support for the shield law.
Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) appeared very concerned about Justice not negotiating with AP. Holder said that, at the conclusion of the case and he can be back involved with it, he would engage in an after-analysis, and he pledged to do that for the sake of the committee and the public.
Lofgren said she thought the damage to a free press had been extensive. "I think this is a very serious matter that concerns all of us, no matter party affiliation."
Lofgren and Goodlatte both suggested they would like to hear from Deputy Cole. Holder said he thought Cole would be willing to talk to the committee, but said he didn't think the lead prosecutor in an ongoing matter would be able to do much talking either.
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