At a press conference yesterday, Attorney General Eric Holder was pressed on the controversy surrounding subpoenas for AP phone logs, and one reporter said, “[I]t leaves us in a position of wondering whether the administration has somehow decided, policy-wise, that it’s kind of going after us.” Holder said this is “certainly not” the case, and reminded reporters of his and the administration’s support for a media shield law.
The proposal “didn’t get the necessary support up on the Hill,” Holder said, but “it is something this administration still thinks would be appropriate.”
Indeed, less than a day later, the White House has taken a renewed interest in the idea.
The Obama administration sought on Wednesday to revive legislation that would provide greater protections to reporters from penalties for refusing to identify confidential sources, and that would enable journalists to ask a federal judge to quash subpoenas for their phone records, a White House official said.
The official said that President Obama’s Senate liaison, Ed Pagano, called Senator Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York, who is a chief proponent of a so-called media shield law, on Wednesday morning and asked him to reintroduce a bill that he had pushed in 2009.
This has come up before, but Republican opposition killed the bills in 2008 and 2010, with the WikiLeaks story helping derail the latter. [Update: the White House supported the shield law in 2010, but called for significant national-security exceptions. It’s unclear which version Schumer has been asked to re-introduce.]
Regardless, given this week’s news, the stage is set for an interesting fight. The White House, obviously aware of the AP mess, is effectively saying the administration will continue to act as far as it can within the law, but it also wants to see the law narrowed to prevent future controversies. Or put another way, “Stop us before we subpoena again.”
If the shield law passes, this problem largely goes away, and Justice Department subpoenas for news organization’s phone records ends. So will it pass?
I found Kevin Drum’s take compelling: “Politically, Obama is basically daring Republicans to put their money where their mouths are. You want to make the DOJ leak investigation into an issue of executive overreach? Fine. Then rein it in. Pass a law making it clear what DOJ can and can’t do in leak investigations. This is a win-win for me. If Republicans take Obama up on his offer, then we get a law I approve of. If they don’t, then they need to shut up. What’s not to like?”