A special counsel or independent investigative body should be named to look deeper into the U.S. Justice Department’s decisions to obtain the e-mails and telephone records of journalists, Senator Lindsey Graham said.
“We’ve begun to criminalize journalism, and that should worry all of us,” Graham, a South Carolina Republican, said yesterday on the “Fox News Sunday” program. “This is clearly an overreach.”
The Associated Press had its telephone records seized and a Fox News reporter’s e-mails were also obtained as part of a Justice Department investigation into the sources for stories that dealt with national security. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said last week he will review the rules that guide prosecutors in investigations that include journalists.
Senator Dick Durbin, an Illinois Democrat, said on “Fox News Sunday” that, while he’s not ready to call for a special counsel, the Justice Department’s actions raise questions about how to protect national security as well as freedom of the press.
“What’s a journalist today in 2013?” Durbin said. “Does it include a blogger? Someone who is tweeting?”
Holder participated in the decision to ask for a search warrant for a Fox News reporter’s e-mails, the Justice Department said last week. Prosecutors sought the warrant as part of a probe into a 2009 leak on North Korea’s nuclear program, the agency said in a statement.
Lawmakers called Holder’s review of the rules guiding prosecutors a conflict because of his involvement in the decision to pursue a warrant.
“You cannot investigate yourself, and I think it’s a total conflict of interest,” said Senator Tom Coburn, a Republican from Oklahoma, on CBS’s “Face the Nation” program. “Allowing the very person that authorized the two things that we are very aware of today, to investigate whether or not he did that appropriately, is inappropriate.”
Senator Chuck Schumer, a Democrat from New York, told CBS that he and Graham are proposing new legislation that would require agencies to gain approval from a judge before asking journalists to divulge sources and certain information.
“You always need set rules and an independent arbiter,” Schumer said on the pre-taped program. “We have neither now.”
Graham also called for a special counsel to investigate the Internal Revenue Service’s targeting of conservative groups for special scrutiny. The agency’s actions reflect a culture within the Democratic Obama administration of pursuing the president’s political enemies, said Graham.
The Obama administration has been roiled by allegations that the IRS gave extra scrutiny to conservative groups that applied for tax-exempt status. Beginning in 2010, the IRS used “inappropriate criteria” to identify groups for further review based on their names or policy positions, according to an inspector general’s report released May 14. Congressional committees have begun looking into the allegations.