Reporter held in contempt in CIA leak case faces jail

New York Times writer refuses to reveal sources

October 08, 2004|By Harry Berkowitz | Harry Berkowitz,NEWSDAY

A federal judge yesterday ordered New York Times reporter Judith Miller to be jailed for refusing to testify about confidential sources in a special prosecutor's probe of the disclosure of a covert CIA officer's identity.

U.S. District Judge Thomas F. Hogan in Washington said Miller could remain free while she appeals.

Hogan's contempt-of-court ruling grew out of an investigation into whether a crime was committed by any government official when the identity of Valerie Plame was disclosed in print in July 2003 by columnist Robert Novak and other journalists, although Miller ended up not writing about Plame.

"The pending imprisonment of Judy Miller is an attack on the ability of all journalists to report on the actions of governments, corporations and others," Times publisher Arthur Ochs Sulzberger Jr. said.

Sulzberger said the investigation had moved "dangerously off course" by challenging the right of journalists to protect confidential sources. He said the prosecutor "should be able to get to the bottom of this case without threatening reporters with jail."

Hogan, however, said the prosecutor, U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald of Chicago, had exhausted other means of trying to obtain key testimony before making a "limited, deferential approach to the press in this matter." Hogan also said that, based on a 1972 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, reporters do not have unlimited protection from testifying about sources before grand juries.

Although Miller, who is involved in a separate investigation by Fitzgerald, never wrote about Plame, the judge has said she "contemplated" doing so.

"It's frankly frightening that just for doing my job and talking to government employees about public issues, I may be deprived of my freedom and family," Miller said.

Four other reporters who received subpoenas in the investigation agreed to testify about contacts with a Bush administration official, based on the official's consent, including Time magazine reporter Matthew Cooper, who before agreeing to do so also was ruled in contempt by Hogan. Cooper has received a second subpoena. Novak has not commented on whether he received a subpoena or has testified.

Fitzgerald is separately investigating whether government officials tipped off the Times to a planned search of the offices of a charity suspected of having ties to al-Qaida.

Newsday is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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