By Jordy Yager and Mike Lillis - 05/20/13 09:42 PM EDT
Tensions between the Obama administration and the press were strained further Monday by news that the Justice Department had targeted a Fox News reporter as a criminal co-conspirator over national security leaks.
The executive vice president of news at Fox, Michael Clemente, vowed to thoroughly defend reporter James Rosen, calling the controversial methods used by the Justice Department “downright chilling.”
Journalists also criticized the department’s actions, as did Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who called on the administration to target leakers and not news organizations.
“We must insist that federal agents not use legitimate investigations as an excuse to harass journalists they deem unfriendly to the president or the administration,” Rubio said in a statement.
The Fox case follows news that Justice secretly subpoenaed two months' worth of phone records from more than 20 Associated Press employees as part of an investigation into leaks. The House Judiciary Committee has launched an investigation to determine whether the DOJ acted legally or violated the Constitution.
In the Fox News case, Justice examined Rosen’s phone records and personal emails in 2010, while tracking his visits to the State Department. It used Rosen’s security badge data as part of a probe into whether he was given national security information. Court records highlighting Justice’s actions were first reported by The Washington Post.
Rosen came under Justice’s scrutiny for a story he wrote in 2009 stating that U.S. intelligence officials believed North Korea would likely test more nuclear weapons in response to new United Nations sanctions. Rosen said in his article that the CIA analysis was based on sources inside North Korea.
Justice later identified State Department employee Stephen Jin-Woo Kim as the source of the leak. Kim faces federal charges for disclosing classified national security information and could see a trial as soon as next year.
The investigation expanded to include Rosen, who federal authorities say may have acted as “an aider, abettor and/or co-conspirator” in the leak, according to a sworn affidavit from an FBI agent.
Justice’s actions have been criticized by lawmakers and journalists across the political spectrum, including David Corn, a reporter for the liberal magazine Mother Jones.
“If a reporter asks a source who handles classified material for info, does DOJ see that as a crime?,” Corn asked on Twitter. “The Rosen case may be more imp. than AP.”
Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas) on Friday criticized Justice’s tracking of AP phone records.
“Casing and chilling the press by doing that type of sweep, to me, as an attorney, I said, 'Ew, that's [worrisome],' ” Cuellar said. “They should have gone to a judge.”
Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) introduced legislation with conservative Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) last week that would require law enforcers to obtain a court order before they can procure reporters' records.
“It needs to be targeted,” Polis told MSNBC's Chris Jansing on Monday. “They can't simply cast a broad net in a fishing expedition as it appears like they did in this case.”
White House press secretary Jay Carney avoided comments on the Fox News case on Monday, repeatedly saying it was an ongoing investigation.
He argued President Obama is strong ally of news organizations’ right to investigate and report, but said national security leaks could jeopardize the lives of American military and intelligence officials.
Obama himself has made no apologies for the Justice’s sweep of AP phone records.
He said last week the administration has struck a balance between protecting troops in the field and allowing reporters the free reign to hold the government into account.
“Leaks related to national security can put people at risk. They can put men and women in uniform that I’ve sent into the battlefield at risk. They can put some of our intelligence officers, who are in various, dangerous situations that are easily compromised, at risk,” Obama said Thursday during a press briefing at the White House. “Part of my job is to make sure that we’re protecting what they do, while still accommodating for the need for information — or the need for the public to be informed and be able to hold my office accountable.”
Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.), says the administration “has more to share” with Congress about the AP episode.
“In terms of the Constitutional rights of freedom of speech and reporters I think, in this particular case, as long as it doesn't endanger the lives of any people, that they ought to make a special effort to be more forthcoming in why they took this very unusual step to acquire telephone numbers,” Rangel said Friday.