WASHINGTON -- Under pressure from lawmakers and journalism organizations for the Justice Department's subpoena of reporters' telephone records, the Obama administration yesterday sought to revive legislation to help journalists protect confidential sources.
President Barack Obama's staff asked Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) to reintroduce legislation he co-sponsored in 2009 to create a so-called shield law, which would limit the circumstances in which the federal government could compel journalists to reveal information about their news gathering.
White House press secretary Jay Carney and Schumer's office said they don't know whether such a law would have prevented federal prosecutors from collecting, without notice or a chance to challenge the action in court, phone records of reporters and editors at The Associated Press.
But Schumer said but it would have set up a more evenhanded process.
"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," Schumer said.
Carney said the White House wasn't involved in the investigation or the subpoenas. He said Obama viewed it as "appropriate to resubmit" the shield law legislation "at this time."
On Capitol Hill, Attorney General Eric Holder also said he wasn't informed of the records seized, saying he had recused himself from the case last year. But he defended the action, saying a serious national security leak had occurred.
Under sharp questioning by Republicans and some Democrats, Holder testified that he has faith in the individuals conducting the broad investigation, which was driven in large part by GOP outrage last year over the possibility that administration officials leaked information to enhance President Barack Obama's national security reputation in an election year.
In one particularly testy exchange with Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) Holder said of Issa's behavior in Congress, "It's unacceptable and it's shameful," he said.