Senate probes Bush’s harassment of reporters

In a new jab at the Bush administration over its use of executive power, the Senate Judiciary Committee is demanding that the Justice Department explain the agency’s investigations of journalists who publish classified information.

Specifically, Republicans and Democrats want to know more about the FBI’s effort to obtain a half-century’s worth of papers kept by columnist Jack Anderson _ a member of President Nixon’s “enemies list” _ who died in December at 83.

Matthew Friedrich, the Justice Department’s criminal division chief of staff, is facing a skeptical panel at a hearing Tuesday.

Chairman Arlen Specter, R-Pa., has chafed for months over President Bush’s secretive domestic wiretapping and phonetapping programs, and maintained that national security may not justify such uses of executive power. He personally told President Bush earlier this year that “the president doesn’t have a blank check.”

Now, with the administration considering prosecuting journalists who publish classified information and refuse to reveal their sources, Specter wants the full story of the Anderson search.

Scheduled to testify Tuesday were Friedrich, Anderson’s son Kevin and Mark Feldstein, a former investigative reporter who is writing a book about Anderson.

Feldstein says two FBI agents showed up at his home March 3 seeking the roughly 200 boxes of Anderson’s papers that the family had granted him access for the book. The agents, Feldstein has said, cited national security concerns.

Members of the Judiciary Committee don’t buy the explanation.

“I fail to see what possible national security interest is served by the FBI rummaging through Mr. Anderson’s files many years after he published articles about these matters,” ranking Democrat Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said in prepared remarks.

The FBI has said that if the papers contain classified information, they belong to the government.

The FBI had long sought Anderson’s papers after he published stories exposing the Keating Five, a CIA plan to assassinate Fidel Castro and details of the Iran-Contra affair.

Anderson’s son said the FBI contacted his mother shortly after his father’s funeral, expressing interest in documents that would aid the government’s case against two former lobbyists for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee who have been charged with disclosing classified information.

In addition, the agents told the family they planned to remove from the columnist’s archive _ which had yet to be catalogued _ any document they came across that was stamped “secret” or “confidential,” or was otherwise classified.

The family refused.

The younger Anderson’s account is similar to that of Feldstein, a George Washington University journalism professor and Anderson biographer, who said he was visited by two agents at his Washington-area home in March.

“They flashed their badges and said they needed access to the papers,” said Feldstein. Anderson donated his papers to the university, but the family had not yet formally signed them over.

FBI Special Agent Richard Kolko, a spokesman in Washington, said in an interview that the bureau wants to search the Anderson archive and remove classified materials before they are made available to the public. “It has been determined that, among the papers, there are a number of U.S. government documents containing classified information,” Kolko said, declining to say how the FBI knows.

The documents contain information about sources and methods used by U.S. intelligence agencies, he said.