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SENATORS REJECT PLEA TO GO AFTER REPORTERS

A request by the Senate's independent counsel to compel testimony and records from reporters in his investigation of leaks in two cases has been rejected because it would have a "chilling effect" on the media.

Chairman Wendell Ford, D-Ky., of the Senate Rules Committee, and Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, the ranking Republican, on Wednesday rejected the request made in legal briefs by special counsel Peter Fleming.Fleming had sought permission Tuesday from Ford and Stevens to go after reporters who broke stories, based on unnamed sources, in two celebrated Senate cases - the confirmation of Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court and the Keating Five scandal.

The decision, made after a private meeting with Fleming, ended the potential for a Senate showdown over First Amendment rights of reporters to keep secret the sources of their stories.

The Ford-Stevens conclusion will force Fleming to try to find the source of the leaks without information from reporters.

The resolution governing the investigation gave Ford and Stevens the power to make the decisions.

"To grant the requested orders could have a chilling effect on the media and could close a door where more doors need opening," Ford said. "Approving these requests would send the wrong message to the American public, which rightly demands fairness and respect of individual rights for all citizens."