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Bipartisan Senate group pushes reporter shield law

July 17, 2013

WASHINGTON (AP) — A bipartisan group of senators on Wednesday pressed forward with a reporter shield bill that includes new Justice Department guidelines for investigations that involve the media.

Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer and Republican Sen. Lindsay Graham, R-South Carolina, said they hoped to have the legislation to a Senate committee as early as this week.

Schumer said Justice Department guidelines were a good start — “but our bill will ensure that any new administration will not be able to go back.”

Added Graham, “Guidelines aren’t going to cut it. I think we need a law.”

Attorney General Eric Holder announced the new Justice Department guidelines on Friday. They would make it harder for prosecutors to obtain journalists’ phone records without advance notice.

The new Justice Department guidelines and the Senate push for a reporter shield law come after disclosures that the Justice Department secretly subpoenaed almost two months of telephone records for 21 phone lines used by reporters and editors for The Associated Press and secretly used a warrant to obtain some emails of a Fox News journalist.

President Barack Obama had ordered Holder to review the Justice Department’s policy on obtaining information from reporters after the administration came under heavy criticism from lawmakers, news organizations and civil liberties groups.

The proposed legislation would also ensure reporters have the ability to protect the identity of anonymous sources, with limited exceptions. The bill would create a legal framework for circumstances when it was lawful to compel reporters to reveal their sources. In most cases, the government would have to argue in court as to why it needed the information.

Another sponsor, Republican Sen. Roy Blount said the bill had strong bipartisan support because it was common sense.

“Just because I’m not supposed to answer a question, it doesn’t mean you’re not supposed to ask it,” he said, gesturing toward reporters.

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