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DOJ defends right to prosecute journalists for leaking classified information

[JURIST] The head of the criminal division of the US Justice Department [official website], testifying Tuesday at a hearing [committee materials] before the Senate Judiciary Committee [official website], reiterated the DOJ's position that the federal government has the authority to prosecute journalists who disclose classified information. Matthew Friedrich, principal deputy assistant attorney general, said provisions in the US Code [18 USC 793 text] dating from the Espionage Act of 1917 do not exempt reporters or any other professionals, and that "many judges and commentators have reached this same conclusion." His statement [text] echoed remarks made last month by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales [JURIST report], who later appeared to retreat from that position [JURIST report]. Judiciary Committee Chairman Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA) [official website] expressed skepticism that Congress intended to authorize the prosecution of journalists and described the administration's position as "an invitation to Congress to legislate on the subject."

Friedrich declined to answer senators' questions about an investigation of the late columnist Jack Anderson [NNDB profile], who the FBI believes accumulated documents containing classified information during decades of investigative reporting. Friedrich's response angered Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) [official website] though Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA) [official website] acknowledged that the FBI may have legitimate reasons for access to Anderson's documents, but he criticized [statement text] how it has tried to obtain them. AP has more.

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