Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Court: Reporters Must Testify in CIA Leak Case

A U.S. appeals court ruled on Tuesday that two journalists must testify before a federal grand jury about their confidential sources in an investigation into a leak that exposed the identity of a covert CIA operative.

The three-judge panel ruled that New York Times reporter Judith Miller and Matthew Cooper of Time Magazine must comply with a subpoena from a grand jury investigating whether the Bush administration illegally leaked the officer's name to the news media.

The decision upheld a ruling by a federal judge that Miller and Cooper were in contempt of court and should be jailed for refusing to testify about their confidential sources. Miller and Cooper each face as much as 18 months in prison.

"There is no First Amendment privilege protecting the evidence sought," Judge David Sentelle wrote in the opinion.

He rejected the argument by the two journalists that the identity of their confidential sources was protected by a reporter's privilege under the First Amendment, which guarantees freedom of speech and freedom of the press.

The grand jury has been hearing testimony from officials and journalists to try and establish who leaked the name of a CIA operative, Valerie Plame, in 2003 to syndicated columnist Robert Novak, who revealed her identity in his column.

Disclosing the identity of a clandestine intelligence officer is a crime. No charges have been brought so far in connection with the investigation.

Although Miller and Cooper talked to sources about the Plame story, neither had anything to do with leaking her identity. Miller gathered information for a story but never published one.

All three appeals court judges upheld the subpoena requiring the journalists to testify before the grand jury.

Judge David Tatel wrote separately and said he might have quashed the subpoena "were the leak at issue in this case less harmful to national security or more vital to public debate."