Attorney Floyd Abrams — one of the country's leading authorities on the First Amendment — joined us today to talk about revelations that the Justice Department seized two months of phone records from the Associated Press.
Abrams spoke to the scale and seriousness of the investigation that had been revealed, in particular the breadth of the phone records that had been seized.
"The Department of Justice now sits with an enormous amount of information about who called in and who called out, about stories having nothing to do with this investigation. While they tell us they're not going to look at it, they don't care about that stuff, that's not the way we behave in a democratic society, First-Amendment-Protected society. We wouldn't need a First Amendment otherwise! We generally proceed on the basis that the government is capable of, and sometimes does, act very badly indeed with information, let alone information they shouldn't have. So it's a very major step, very major, for them to go in and — in effect — act no different than if they had sent FBI personnel right into the AP offices and said, give us your phone records, just give them to us."
Abrams also responded to a caller who compared the recent scandals over IRS scrutiny of conservative groups and the seizure of AP phone records to some of the actions of the Nixon administration.
"The Nixon administration aimed at political enemies. And we ought to make very sure that what the IRS was doing, even though it obviously focused on conservative groups, that at least it didn't come from the White House. And if it didn't, that would be a very big distinction from anything in the Nixon administration. So far as we know, the President doesn't have an enemies list, which President Nixon had."
Abrams also identified himself as an "Obama voter," and cautioned that political leanings should not affect how anyone reacts to the current administration's actions.
"If this were Nixon, or if this were a Republican president, a lot of us who voted for President Obama would be absolutely up in arms, and we should be no less so because we happen to agree with the administration on other issues."
You can listen to the full segment with Floyd Abrams here:
This program aired on May 15, 2013. The audio for this program is not available.