Republican Rep. Trey Radel of Florida told Newsmax that he plans on introducing legislation Wednesday to guarantee protection of the personal and professional lives of journalists, the same bill that then-Sen. Barack Obama co-sponsored in 2007 and then opposed as president.
"The Fourth Estate is being subjected to heavy-handed treatment from the government," Radel told Newsmax on Tuesday, referring to reports that officials of the Justice Department had obtained phone records from Associated Press reporters.
The House freshman said the Free Flow of Information Act "provides a layer of protection to ensure our journalists' work and their sources are not compromised. It creates legal loopholes that the federal government must go through before it can look into the personal and professional lives of men and women who work in TV, radio, print, and online to report the news."
Radel speaks with a particular authority and passion on this subject. For most of his adult life, he was a working journalist — as a TV reporter and anchorman, in radio, as owner of a newspaper, and in Internet journalism.
Earlier Tuesday, Obama press secretary Jay Carney told reporters at the White House how the president strongly believes in the First Amendment, and that then-Sen. Obama co-sponsored legislation in 2007 that would have prohibited the government from subpoenaing the phone records of members of the press. The bill was later filibustered to death in the Senate.
But NBC correspondent Chuck Todd countered that in 2009, President Obama opposed similar press-protection legislation in Congress in spite of the fact Democrats controlled both the Senate and the House and its passage was ensured.
Radel said the legislation he will offer today "is essentially the same '09 bill that was offered by Mike Pence [then an Indiana Republican congressman and now governor] and that was opposed by the administration."
"This bill should now have strong bipartisan backing — from Republicans, Democrats, and libertarians," Radel said.
Radel may well have his first Democratic co-sponsor in Rep. Bill Pascrell of New Jersey.
Before Newsmax spoke to Radel, Pascrell issued a statement saying the allegations about the Justice Department and AP, "if proven to be true, cast an incredibly dark cloud over this administration and its commitment to one of our most cherished American values: freedom of the press."
Pascrell recalled that "then-Senator Obama understood this when he co-sponsored legislation in 2007 that would have prohibited our government from subpoenaing the phone records of members of the press.
"Unfortunately that bill was filibustered in the Senate, and I call on Speaker Boehner to immediately allow us to vote on similar legislation so this or any future administration cannot similarly attack the civil liberties we all hold dear," said Pascrell.
Radel said he had sent a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder calling on him to use his authority to appoint a special counsel to investigate the situation involving Justice Department employees digging into the records of the AP reporters.
Although he agreed that it seemed unusual to ask the official who oversees the Justice Department to appoint the investigator of its alleged breach of trust, Radel said, "I believe in our system and this is the way abuses are dealt with -- through the appointment of an independent counsel to investigate."
John Gizzi is chief political correspondent and White House correspondent for Newsmax.
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