Reporter who broke story of Anita Hill allegations refuses to divulge sources

February 14, 1992|By Tom Bowman | Tom Bowman,Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON -- A newspaper reporter, citing the First Amendment press freedom guarantee, refused yesterday to tell

Senate investigators who had leaked to him Anita F. Hill's charges of sexual harassment against Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas.

Newsday reporter Timothy Phelps emerged from the closed-door question-and-answer session after more than four hours with special counsel Peter E. Fleming Jr. Mr. Phelps said he repeatedly refused toanswer the counsel, who pressed him for his sources and "went over virtually every word I wrote."

"I do so not only as an assertion of my rights under the First Amendment," Mr. Phelps said, "but also of those of my readers and the American people. They had a need and a right to know that serious allegations had been made against a nominee to the Supreme Court."

Meanwhile, Newsday editor and senior vice president Anthony Marro also appeared before Mr. Fleming and refused to turn over any documents, tapes or notes requested in a subpoena drawn up by investigators.

Newsday said it had only authenticated stories and furnished published material and public statements.

Mr. Fleming declined to comment after the session. He can now ask the Senate Rules and Administration Committee to require Mr. Phelps to testify. The committee has the power to recommend that the full Senate vote on a contempt-of-Congress charge, which carries a penalty of up to a year in jail.

"There was no discussion of what would happen next," Mr. Phelps said.

The sexual misconduct charges by Ms. Hill, an Oklahoma law professor, first appeared in an Oct. 6 story written by Mr. Phelps. The Senate Judiciary Committee then reopened its hearings on Judge Thomas, whovehemently denied the allegations and was later confirmed.

Mr. Fleming was hired by the Senate last fall to investigate leaks that led to stories in Newsday and on National Public Radio about Ms. Hill's allegations. The investigation was broadened to include the source of leaks about the Senate ethics investigation involving savings and loan official Charles H. Keating Jr. and five senators.

This morning, Mr. Fleming is scheduled to question Washington Times reporter Paul Rodriguez about his "Keating Five" stories. On Feb. 24, NPR reporter Nina Totenberg is to be questioned about her broadcasts concerning Ms. Hill's allegations. Both of those reporters have said they will appear but will refuse to divulge their sources.

Lawyers for Mr. Phelps said Mr. Fleming asked which sources provided information for his stories.

The Newsday subpoena requested notes or tapes of conversations by Mr. Phelps with Sen. Paul Simon, D-Ill., a member of the Judiciary Committee. But Mr. Phelps said that request concerned the senator's reaction to Ms. Hill's allegations in the initial Newsday story.

"They asked me about him . . . in the context of my story," he said.

Mr. Simon has repeatedly said that neither he nor his staff leaked the information, said David Carle, a spokesman for the Illinois senator, who supported the special counsel's investigation.

Robert S. Warren, a lawyer for Newsday, said the effect of the proceedings amounts to "harassment of the press." Mr. Phelps, however, said he did not feel harassed but believed the subpoena hurt his ability to gather news.

"Nobody in the U.S. Senate wants to talk to me now," he said.

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