The Justice Department is opposing a bipartisan effort on Capitol Hill to protect journalists from having to reveal confidential sources, calling the legislation “bad public policy” that would impair the administration’s ability “to effectively enforce the law and fight terrorism,” reports the Washington Post. In testimony prepared for a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing this morning, Deputy Attorney General James B. Comey Jr. says “imposing inflexible, mandatory standards” would hurt the department on prosecutions involving public health, safety and national security.
The department’s position is a disappointment to lawmakers and news media advocates who have been negotiating with Justice officials and this week scaled back the bill to meet administration objections. Senate sponsors Richard G. Lugar (R-Ind.) and Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.) altered the measure to allow prosecutors to compel journalists to testify about sources if that would prevent “imminent and actual harm to national security” and the potential harm outweighs the public interest in unfettered reporting. Dodd said Justice officials “are making a judgment that this is good politics for them to be opposed.” While the legislation faces “a hard mountain to climb,” he said, it is aimed not at journalists but at “consumers of information.”