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Axelrod: DOJ’s Fox probe ‘disturbing’

The Justice Department’s surveillance of a Fox News reporter is "disturbing," David Axelrod said Tuesday. 

The former Obama campaign adviser specially said he found it troublesome that the Department of Justice decided to label chief Fox News Washington correspondent James Rosen a criminal co-conspirator in a national security leaks case.

“I do think there are real issues regarding the relationship with the media on this leak matter,” Axelrod said on MSNBC’s "Morning Joe." “The notion of naming a journalist as a co-conspirator for receiving information is something that I find very disturbing.

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“We have to figure out … how we deal with national security leaks and how we protect the freedom of the press and the freedom of reporters to operate,” Axelrod continued. “And certainly this Rosen case raises some very disturbing issues.”

The DOJ seized Rosen’s personal emails and used other surveillance methods to investigate whether he was complicit in a leak of classified information. It also examined Rosen’s phone records and tracked his visits to the State Department using security-badge data during the 2009 probe.

The controversial methods were employed as the government sought to root out the source of a State Department leak surrounding a story Rosen wrote that said U.S. intelligence officials believed North Korea would likely respond to new United Nations sanctions by testing more nuclear weapons.

The investigation was broadened to include Rosen, who federal authorities say may have acted as “an aider, abettor and/or co-conspirator” in the leak.

The DOJ is also facing criticism for seizing phone records of Associated Press reporters in an attempt to find the source of another national security leak. Unlike the Rosen case, the AP was never a target of that investigation.

Justice has come under criticism from the right and the left over its pursuit of Rosen and the AP, and its actions have also drawn criticism to President Obama.

Axelrod on Tuesday stressed the need for a media shield law so an independent party could review individual cases of government leaks to prohibit an administration from abusing the First Amendment.

“I don’t think — and the president said in his speech last Thursday — I don’t think reporters should be considered criminals for doing their jobs, and it’s the job of reporters to uncover fact,” Axelrod said. “The administration is in a different position in that there are national security issues that are sensitive and do need to be protected.”

“A judge ought to make that decision because it’s too easy for an administration to manipulate that,” he continued. “I don’t think this administration has. I think these notions that somehow this relates to Nixon or what was done back then is wrong because they were operating for their own political benefit, and I don’t think that’s what happened here. But there has to be some way to ensure the integrity of these decisions independent of any administration.”

White House press secretary Jay Carney said he and Obama have discussed press freedoms in light of the DOJ revelations.

“I can tell you that in our conversation … he reiterated just how important he believes it is that reporters — that all of you and your colleagues are able to do your jobs in a free and open way,” Carney said at a press conference last week.

Carney said that Obama believed “deeply” that the press should be “allowed to pursue investigative journalism freely.”

“If you're asking me whether the president believes that journalists should be prosecuted for doing their jobs, the answer is no,” he continued.