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Democratic House Oversight Chairman Elijah Cummings launches targeted probe of Fox News over Stormy Daniels coverage

Whatever happened to freedom of the press?

Rep. Jim Jordan (left) speaks with House Oversight and Reform Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

House Oversight and Reform Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) is investigating Fox News after a disputed report accused the outlet of refusing to publish so-called "proof" of Stormy Daniels' alleged affair with then-candidate Donald Trump prior to the 2016 presidential election.

While Cummings maintains he is pursuing a "potential campaign violation," the congressman is being questioned about his careful selection of just one witness for his probe — and whether or not his pursuit violates the First Amendment.

What are the details?

Last month, Jane Mayer of The New Yorker published a story accusing former Fox News digital editor Ken LaCorte of refusing to publish a report weeks ahead of the 2016 presidential election that Stormy Daniels — an adult film star whose given name is Stephanie Clifford — had an affair years prior with then-candidate Donald Trump.

Mayer didn't name her source, but cited a second-hand account from an anonymous prior co-worker of reporter Diana Falzone, who wrote the unpublished Daniels/Trump report in question. The source claimed LaCorte passed on Falzone's piece in order to protect the Republican nominee.

LaCorte vehemently denied spiking the story on political grounds, writing numerous editorials saying the report written by Falzone had scant evidence and was based largely off a gossip post from a site called The Dirty. He also noted that several other media outlets passed on the story at the same time he did, given the fact that Daniels herself denied the rumors but was seeking a payout to tell her story.

In the meantime, Falzone left Fox News and filed a lawsuit against the company for gender and disability discrimination. Although she signed a nondisclosure agreement with Fox, her attorney, Nancy Erika Smith, made a public statement on MSNBC saying that her client would be able to circumvent that NDA if Congress were to ask for her testimony.

Chairman Cummings took the hint. He sent a letter requesting Falzone hand over any "documents relating to President Donald Trump's reporting of debts and payments to silence women alleging extramarital affairs with him prior to the 2016 presidential election."

After the news hit that Falzone would cooperate and testify, LaCorte wrote a piece announcing that he would not comply with the committee. He argued, "If House Oversight can launch an investigation based on the ridiculous notion that publishing, or even more bizarrely not publishing, a story can be construed as an in-kind campaign contribution, then no journalist in America is safe from government intimidation."

But LaCorte hasn't been called to testify, either. He told TheBlaze, "So far I haven't heard from the committee and I don't know what their plans are. They're probably weighing the 'fun' of trashing Fox News with a terrible precedent of interrogating reporters and editors."

TheBlaze inquired as to whether LaCorte was aware of reporters from other outlets being summoned to speak to the committee, given the fact that Daniels had reportedly shopped her story ahead of the election to Slate, as well was "Good Morning America" and others, according to Slate's report and LaCorte.

"I find it hard to believe that Elijah Cummings would be dumb enough to subpoena journalists to the House Oversight Committee but I've never met him," LaCorte responded, adding, "He's abused his power so far by having a reporter hand over her documents and testify, so who knows?"

LaCorte continued, "Will they also look into other news organizations, like Slate and the Daily Beast, for coming to the same conclusions? If they were being at all intellectually honest they would, so I predict they won't. This is all about scoring political points and hurting Fox News."

For his part, LaCorte no longer has skin in the game when it comes to Fox News. He's launched his own outlet, LaCorte News, aimed at delivering unbiased reporting and says there's room for it.

Anything else?

After Cummings solicited information from Falzone, House Oversight Committee ranking member Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) and Subcommittee on Government Operations ranking member Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) wrote a letter to the chairman warning that his request "implicates serious matters relating to the First Amendment and freedom of the press."

The Washington Examiner's editorial board threw the same penalty flag, writing last week, "All the editors in Washington now understand implicitly that they might have to face a committee the next time they make a decision Cummings doesn't like. And, of course, other members from both parties are sure to follow his example, so things will only get worse from here."

This story has been updated.

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