FBI drops its quest for papers of reporter

Published: Thursday, Jan. 4 2007 12:11 a.m. MST

U. law professor Tim Chambless discusses the Jack Anderson papers as attorney Pat Shea listens in background.

Michael Brandy, Deseret Morning News

The son of the late Jack Anderson said Wednesday that the longtime investigative reporter's family is pleased with the FBI's abandonment of its efforts to recover government documents leaked to his father.

"This takes the pressure off, and now we can proceed with the plan of archiving them and making them available for scholarly research," said Kevin N. Anderson, a lawyer in Salt Lake City. He said the family plans to donate the remainder of the available documents to George Washington University, which already has ownership of an archive of about 200 boxes of Jack Anderson's works.

The documents, which some officials said might have contained classified information, were among the late columnist's confidential papers. They touched off a dispute last spring between the FBI and the journalist's family.

At the heart of the disagreement were concerns about government investigations of reporters and whether such inquiries might violate constitutional protections of the press.

"I appreciate that the presses rolled on this and as my father would have said, 'When the media shines the light on the government's wrongdoing, the cockroaches go scurrying for cover,"' Kevin Anderson said.

In blunt answers to a 147-page questionnaire from the Senate Judiciary Committee, dated Nov. 30, Acting Associate Attorney General James H. Clinger said the FBI was no longer seeking any of Anderson's documents.

"Under which statute do you seek to reclaim the Jack Anderson documents?" asked the committee in its questionnaire, which was posted Wednesday on the Web site of the Federation of American Scientists.

Answered Clinger: "The FBI met with the Anderson family in an effort to review the files with their consent. At this time, the FBI is not seeking to reclaim any documents."

An FBI spokesman declined to comment Wednesday evening. Clinger's letter was addressed to outgoing Senate Judiciary Chairman Arlen Specter, R-Pa. It did not explain why the FBI had dropped the probe, and a Republican aide to the committee said Wednesday that was also unclear to lawmakers.

The letter can be found at: www.fas.org/irp/congress/2006_hr/fbi-qfr.pdf.

Anderson died in December 2005 at age 83 after a career in which he broke several big scandals and earned a place on former President Richard Nixon's "enemies list." Authorities on several occasions tried to find the source of leaked information that became a staple of his syndicated column.

Not long after his funeral, FBI agents called Anderson's widow to say they wanted to search his papers.

At the time, the FBI confirmed it wanted to remove any classified materials from Anderson's archives, located at George Washington University, before they were made available to the public. An FBI spokesman said then that the bureau had determined that some of Anderson's papers contained classified information about sources and methods used by U.S. intelligence agencies.

The spokesman said that under the law, no private person may possess classified documents that were illegally provided to them, and that these documents remain the property of the government.

The standoff, which appeared to have begun with an FBI effort to find evidence for the criminal case against two pro-Israel lobbyists, quickly hardened into a new test of the Bush administration's protection of government secrets and journalists' ability to report on them.

Anderson's son and one of his father's biographers said they were questioned by agents who expressed interest in documents that would aid the government's case against the two former lobbyists for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee who have been charged with receiving classified information. The case was criticized by civil liberties advocates as criminalizing the routine exchange of inside information.

George Washington University journalism professor Mark Feldstein, who is writing a Jack Anderson biography, said Wednesday that he and family members told the FBI there was no classified material in the hundreds of boxes holding Anderson's files.

"It was dusty old stuff that I couldn't imagine would be relevant to a criminal probe," Feldstein said.

In the questionnaire from the Judiciary Committee, Clinger was asked if the FBI's interest in the Anderson papers stemmed from worries that the papers might disclose information about

former FBI director J. Edgar Hoover's personal life. The committee also wondered whether the FBI interest was related to the court case against the two former AIPAC employees.

"We sought to review the papers to determine, among other things, whether public disclosure of them would cause a risk to national security," Clinger told the committee. "Access was not sought because Anderson allegedly had information regarding former Director Hoover's personal life. Additional information responsive to this inquiry is classified."

University of Utah law professor Tim Chambless, who is writing a biography of Anderson, said "the FBI's imposition has had a chilling effect." He believes the agency gave up on its quest because of the coming change in House and Senate leadership and the promise that new leadership intends to have extended oversight of the FBI.

Chambless said his work has been derailed by the investigation, causing him to place documents he had in an undisclosed location for safekeeping.

"I'm happy we can close this chapter and move ahead with what I promised Jack I would do," Chambless said. "It's a victory, not just for academics, but for journalists and for political scientists and for anyone who is interested in government."

Feldstein added: "We've been holding our breath, wondering if they were going to come after us further. I'm relieved to hear they have backed away from what I think was a pretty egregious overreach, to be going after papers of a dead reporter for classified documents from decades ago."


E-mail: wleonard@desnews.com

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