By David Ingram
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The lawyer for a former U.S. State Department contract analyst accused of leaking state secrets threatened in court on Tuesday to try to block evidence that he said the government may have improperly seized from a reporter.
Lawyer Abbe Lowell's client, Stephen Kim, faces trial under an anti-espionage law on charges that he told Fox News reporter James Rosen how U.S. intelligence officials believed North Korea would react to heightened sanctions.
While collecting possible evidence in the case, investigators persuaded a magistrate judge to approve their search of Rosen's Google email account.
A fight over evidence would be another embarrassment for President Barack Obama's leak crackdown following disclosures that prosecutors seized records from Fox News and the Associated Press in two separate cases without advance notice, and that the FBI labeled Rosen a possible criminal co-conspirator.
Lowell told U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly during a hearing that he was looking at whether possible improprieties in obtaining the search warrant "will sustain a motion to suppress." He declined after the hearing to elaborate.
Because of secrecy surrounding Kim's case, Lowell did not identify Rosen or Fox News by name. The only warrant in Kim's case that has stirred debate was the one for Rosen's emails.
Prosecutors did not respond to Lowell's threat during the hearing, and a spokesman for them later declined to comment.
No trial date has been set in Kim's case.
Journalists, lawmakers and civil liberties advocates have said the disclosures about Justice Department tactics raised concern about the U.S. commitment to press freedom.
At Obama's direction, Attorney General Eric Holder is reviewing his Justice Department's guidelines for investigations that involve reporters, although Holder has said that prosecutors followed all laws and guidelines in recent cases.
The case is USA v. Stephen Kim, U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, No. 1:10-cr-00225.