updated 4/18/2006 8:02:04 PM ET 2006-04-19T00:02:04

Not long after columnist Jack Anderson’s funeral, FBI agents called his widow to say they wanted to search his papers. They were looking for confidential government information he might have acquired in a half-century of investigative reporting.

The agents expressed interest in documents that would aid the government’s case against two former lobbyists for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC, who have been charged with disclosing classified information, said Kevin Anderson, the columnist’s son.

In addition, the agents told the family they planned to remove from the columnist’s archive — which has yet to be catalogued — any document they came across that was stamped “secret” or “confidential.”

“He would be rolling over in his grave to think that the FBI was going to go crawling through his papers willy-nilly,” the younger Anderson told The Associated Press in an interview Tuesday.

His account is similar to conversations described by Mark Feldstein, a George Washington University journalism professor and Anderson biographer. Feldstein said he was visited by two agents at his Washington-area home in March.

“They flashed their badges and said they needed access to the papers,” said Feldstein, a former investigative reporter. Anderson donated his papers to the university, but the family has not yet formally signed them over.

FBI stays quiet
The FBI did not respond to several requests for comment Tuesday. The story was first reported by the Chronicle of Higher Education.

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

Given his history, Anderson’s family might already have been skeptical when the FBI came calling.

The timing only deepened suspicion. The AIPAC investigation dates back at least five years.

“And right after he dies, they contact his widow,” Kevin Anderson said.

Still, when the FBI first called Olivia Anderson and said it was a matter of national security, the family was willing to consider the request. Jack Anderson himself cooperated with the FBI from time to time, his son said.

The more the Andersons learned, however, the less willing they were to help. Lawyers for the family are preparing a letter to the FBI declining to cooperate, Kevin Anderson said.

“We don’t think there’s anything related to the current investigation there, based on the time frame and dad’s poor health,” he said. “They made it clear they want to look at everything and by the way, if we find anything classified, we’ll have to remove it. I suspect that’s their real intention, to get through these papers before they become public.”

‘Assault on the news media’
Feldstein, who is writing a book about Anderson’s relationship with Nixon, said the attempt is part of the “greatest assault on the news media since the Nixon administration.”

The AIPAC case itself has raised questions about press freedoms because the former lobbyists, Steven Rosen and Keith Weissman, are accused of sharing information with reporters, among others.

At the same time, journalists have been questioned or subpoenaed in the investigation of who in the Bush administration leaked a CIA officer’s identity and the Justice Department is probing who revealed the existence of the National Security Agency’s warrantless eavesdropping program.

The agents who went to Feldstein’s home asked if he had seen any classified documents, wanted the names of all graduate students who had looked through the papers and questioned him about where the documents are housed and who controls access to them.

“On the one hand, I think it’s really disturbing to have the FBI come knocking at your door, demanding to look at things you’ve been reading. It smacks of a Gestapo state. On the other hand, it’s so heavy handed to be almost ludicrous,” Feldstein said.

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