POLITICS
05/16/2013 09:04 pm ET | Updated May 17, 2013

Republicans Split On Media Shield Law Amid Outrage Over Associated Press Records Seizure

WASHINGTON -- Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said Thursday he would co-sponsor a media shield bill with Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) after the Justice Department secretly seized two months of Associated Press phone records. The two senators penned a letter urging their 98 Senate colleagues to support the bill granting legal protections to journalists engaged in newsgathering activities.

“The government has a legitimate interest in preventing and investigating leaks of classified information," Graham and Schumer wrote. "At the same time, the public has a legitimate interest in a robust free press. "This bill strikes a fair and reasonable balance between those interests, and we urge you to join us in advancing it."

Amid the outrage over the Justice Department probe, few Republicans have indicated they are committed to reporter protection. Many avoided taking a position on media shield legislation, saying they would have to see it first. They either reiterated their stance that the administration's actions were inappropriate, or deflected the issue entirely. Democrats in both the House and Senate have shown broad support for similar shield law measures in the past.

"I'm just not familiar enough with the substance right now," Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) told The Huffington Post. "Like all of you, I'm very concerned about what has just happened." Asked if he felt there Congress played any role in responding to the probe, Corker hedged again.

"It's not a subject that's in any of my committees or jurisdiction, and I just don't know enough about the substance to speak to it," he said.

"I'd have to look at it," said Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah). "I want to look at the facts a little more before commenting on that."

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) assailed the Justice Department in a Wednesday floor speech.

"You think about some of our most precious freedoms, the First Amendment right to free speech. Think about if you're a reporter at the Associated Press," Rubio said. "Think about if you are a source unrelated to national security to the Associated Press."

But his blistering critique should not be confused with support for a media shield law, at least not yet.

"To be honest with you, I haven't even read it. I don't fully understand the details of it," Rubio said in an interview with MSNBC's Chuck Todd Thursday morning. "I'm certainly concerned about what happened with the Associated Press, and I'm concerned about what I think was an abuse of power of the Department of Justice as well."

The media shield bill was revived Wednesday at the request of the Obama administration. The bill would help reporters protect the identity of their sources from federal officials, but would include a broad national security exemption that some have argued would be ineffective in ensuring a probe resembling that of the AP doesn't happen again.

Reactions were similarly mixed among Republicans in the House, where Rep. Ted Poe (R-Texas) this week filed his own version of a reporter shield bill. Poe has likened the Justice Department seizure of AP phone records to the methods of Communist leaders in the Soviet Union in the 1980s.

"Looks like bruising the First Amendment at least by me," Poe told Attorney General Eric Holder Wednesday at a hearing before the House Judiciary Committee. "I hope we can get that shield law passed through both houses this time."

But Poe's colleagues, while quick to heap criticism on the administration, were reluctant to take a position on the bill or any new legislation.

Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) railed against the administration's "outrageous" actions. But when asked about a media shield bill, he told HuffPost, "I'd have to see what it is."

Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) said the Justice Department had committed "a dangerous breach of the freedom of the press." He, too, lacked any policy prescriptions.

"In this case they should ascertain the culpable individuals and, unless there was a clear constitutional impetus for their actions, they should be held accountable," Franks told HuffPost.

Rep. Raul Labrador (R-Idaho) said he would "take a look" at the shield bill, conceding he hadn't focused on such issues before the AP scandal.

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) accused the administration of governing with "remarkable arrogance" at a press conference Thursday.

"If reporters’ telephone calls are being monitored, the government better have a clear, and convincing reason for doing so," Boehner said.

But Boehner, who voted in favor of a 2007 measure requiring federal investigators to first obtain a court order before compelling journalists to testify about their confidential sources, has not indicated whether he would support a legislative response to the Justice Department actions.

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