WASHINGTON -- The number two official at the Justice Department said yesterday that a shield law for reporters would encourage leaks of classified information.
At a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty also said the proposal to protect reporters from having to identify their sources would ``significantly weaken" the department's ability to obtain information that it needs to protect national security.
But Arlen Specter, a Pennsylvania Republican who chairs the Judiciary Committee, said he wants to push forward with the bill, inspired in part by the jailing last year of journalist Judith Miller, then of The
Miller had refused to cooperate with prosecutors in the Valerie Plame Wilson leak investigation. She subsequently disclosed that the source who told her of Plame Wilson's CIA identity had been Vice President Dick Cheney's now-indicted former chief of staff, I. Lewis ``Scooter" Libby.
The Senate proposal would allow reporters to protect their confidential sources only in some instances. There would be exemptions in cases involving guilt or innocence, death or bodily harm, eyewitness accounts of criminal activity, and unauthorized disclosure of properly classified information.
McNulty said an exemption for national security was inadequate because the government would have to prove in court that a news leak harmed security. The Senate legislation would inject the federal judiciary ``to an extraordinary degree" into executive branch functions, McNulty said.