In the wake of disclosures that the Department of Justice subpoenaed AP phone records last year, the White House has renewed its push for a shield law for journalists that could have stopped such an intrusion.
A White House official called New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, the bill’s sponsor back in 2009, and asked him to reintroduce the measure, an official familiar with the conversation told NBC News.
“This kind of law would balance national security needs against the public’s right to the free flow of information,” Schumer said in a statement. “At minimum, our bill would have ensured a fairer, more deliberate process in this case.”
Schumer later told reporters he had been thinking about introducing the bill over the past few days, and then got a nod from the White House.
“We were planning to resurrect it and had been working on it the last day or two. And this morning, coincidentally, the White House called.”
“What’s happened with the AP is it’s brought out the need to have some kind of standard,” Senator Schumer said. “Because there are two legitimate, competing interests. So I think there will be far more impetus for this legislation now than there was several days ago.”
“There are two needs in society,” said Schumer. “There is the need for a free press…at the same time there is a need to prevent leaks, particularly of classified information.”
A fellow Democrat, Sen. Jon Tester of Montana, also announced he would co-sponsor the measure. In a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder, Tester told the head of the Justice Department that his agency “flagrantly crossed the line” when it seized AP phone records.
“As reported, these actions represent a blatant violation of privacy, and directly interfere with the Constitutionally protected rights of the press to do its job free from government intrusion or direction,” Tester said to Holder. “Such actions are not what Americans expect. And they’re not what Americans deserve.”
The legislation was supported by the White House in 2009, and passed the Senate Judiciary Committee but was never brought up for a full Senate vote. The proposed shield law would protect journalists from jail time and fines if they refuse to disclose their sources, and reporters can also appeal to a federal judge if they are subpoenaed. However, a judge can still decide that revealing such information is in the public’s interest or if national security concerns compel such a release.