Tags: abrams | freedom | press | obama

Floyd Abrams: White House Quashing Freedom of The Press

Thursday, 06 Jun 2013 05:26 PM

By Bill Hoffmann

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The Obama Administration has "greatly overstepped" its bounds in its targeting of journalists from the Associated Press and Fox News, renowned First Amendment lawyer Floyd Abrams believes.

"You can't let the government get too close, in a sense, that it could deter or chill or freeze speech," Abrams told David Nelson, guest host of "The Steve Malzberg Show" on Newsmax TV.

Abrams, author of "Friend of the Court: On the Front Lines with the First Amendment," said the Justice Department's seizure of phone records from Associated Press and naming of Fox's James Rosen as a "co-conspirator" in a leaks case, injures freedom of the press.

"These leak investigations that have been going on — trying to find out who in the government has released information that he or she wasn’t supposed to release — have an understandable cause," he explained.

"People release really hot information which could perhaps even hurt the country or imperil someone's life. But what the administration has done is to sort of do an end run around having the courts serve as a real decision maker.

"They've really acted as if only the executive, only the Department of Justice, can make the decisions about what sort of activities it may engage in."

As a result, when it attempted to identify the source of a May 2012 story that disclosed details about a bomb plot in Yemen, " instead of sitting with the AP and trying, maybe failing, but trying to work something out . . . they went right to their telephone company and got telephone records. And in the case of the Fox journalist, they submitted an affidavit to a court," Abrams said.

In the case of Rosen, Abrams said, the Justice Department said because he had "asked and asked and tried to persuade and flattered and appealed to ego of someone in government to try to get him to provide certain information, that he may well have violated the espionage law."

Abrams noted that the Obama Administration is just one of several who he believes have stepped on the First Amendment.

"There have been other administrations that have done some things that are even maybe more threatening. President Nixon had this enemy's list," Abrams said.

"In terms of the Department of Justice speaking in the name of the USA to a federal judge and telling him that a reporter who sort of pushes too hard, tries too hard to get a story — that there's probable cause to believe [Rosen] was … a co-conspirator under the espionage act — no administration's done that and it just very greatly overstepped the bounds that have previously existed in this area."

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