House

Oversight panel may hold hearing on DOJ reporter surveillance

The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee may hold a hearing on the Justice Department's surveillance of a New York Times reporter as part of a leak investigation, a senior member of the panel said Friday.

Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) said he was "very nervous" to learn about the extent of the Department of Justice's decision to collect and scrutinize years' worth of the reporter's email and phone records.

"When it comes to protecting our First Amendment liberties, our Fourth Amendment rights, the right to a free press, the right to free speech, the right to practice your faith the way you want to, the Second Amendment rights that we enjoy, the right to privacy under the Fourth Amendment, I am as as strong as they get on these issues," Jordan, a former chairman of the House Freedom Caucus, said during an appearance on C-SPAN's "Newsmakers" that's set to air Friday night.

"So I am very nervous about the government doing what you just described," he added. "Just like I was nervous and upset about the government, particularly the IRS, when they targeted people for their political beliefs, just like I'm fired up about what the FBI did in the Trump-Russia investigation."

Jordan, who chairs an Oversight panel subcommittee, authored a press-shield bill with liberal Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), a constitutional law professor. The Free Flow of Information Act would protect journalists from being forced by the government to reveal confidential sources.

The bipartisan bill was introduced last fall after Attorney General Jeff Sessions vowed to pursue an aggressive prosecutorial approach to journalists, including throwing them in jail for publishing classified leaks.

On Thursday night, The New York Times reported that the Justice Department had seized years' worth of phone and email records from one of the newspaper's reporters, Ali Watkins, going back to her college years, as part of its probe into who had leaked sensitive information to her.

Federal law enforcement officials on Thursday arrested a former longtime Senate Intelligence Committee staffer, James Wolfe, and charged him with making false statements to the FBI about giving journalists non-public information related to his panel's work.

In February, FBI agents approached Watkins about her previous three-year romantic relationship with Wolfe, the Times said.

Watkins has denied using Wolfe as a source.

"We should be concerned about protecting our Constitution, protecting our fundamental liberties, our fundamental rights that we enjoy under the bill of rights and that great document, the United States Constitution," Jordan said.

Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), chairman of the full Oversight and Government Reform Committee, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. But another member of his panel, Rep. Dennis Ross (R-Fla.), said he would support hearings looking into the matter.

"As a lawyer, in any investigation there's got to be a scope of reason," Ross told The Hill.

In the C-SPAN interview, Jordan also discussed the state of immigration negotiations and said he was "nervous" about President Trump's tariffs on aluminum and steel imports. Jordan also said he has been encouraged by support he's received to run for Speaker of the House following the announced retirement of Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) but has made no decision yet.  

The interview airs Friday at 10 p.m. on C-SPAN and again on Sunday at 10 a.m. and 6 p.m.

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