Reporter faces jail in probe of CIA leak

New York Times writer held in contempt after refusing to reveal sources

October 08, 2004|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON -- A federal judge held a reporter for The New York Times in contempt of court yesterday for refusing to name her sources to prosecutors investigating the disclosure of the identity of a covert CIA agent.

The reporter, Judith Miller, published no articles about the agent, Valerie Plame. Nonetheless, the judge, Thomas F. Hogan, ordered her jailed for as long as 18 months, noting that she had contemplated writing such an article and had conducted interviews for it. Hogan suspended the sanction until a planned appeal is concluded, and he released Miller on her own recognizance.

"We have a classic confrontation between competing interests," Hogan said, speaking from the bench. "Miss Miller is acting in good faith, doing her duty as a respected and established reporter who believes reporters have a First Amendment privilege that trumps the right of the government to inquire into her sources."

But Miller is mistaken, Hogan ruled. "Miss Miller has no right to decline to answer these questions," he said.

The investigation seeks to determine who told the syndicated columnist Robert Novak and other journalists that Plame was a CIA officer. A 1982 law makes it a crime for people with access to classified information to disclose the identities of undercover agents in some circumstances.

Miller spoke briefly at the hearing, affirming that she would indeed refuse to answer questions about confidential communications.

Speaking to reporters outside the courthouse afterward, she said: "I'm very disappointed that I've been found in contempt of court for an article I never wrote and The Times never published. I find it truly frightening that journalists can be put in jail for doing their jobs."

"I must protect my sources," she added, "and I will."

According to an earlier decision in the case, Miller conducted reporting about Plame and her husband, Joseph C. Wilson IV, a former diplomat. She contemplated writing an article, Hogan wrote, but she never did.

The investigation has its roots in an Op-Ed article Wilson wrote for The Times in July 2003. It was critical of a justification offered by the Bush administration for the war in Iraq.

Plame's identity was revealed by Novak eight days later. "Two senior administration officials," Novak wrote, identified Plame as "an agency operative on weapons of mass destruction." They spoke, he suggested in the column, in reaction to "the fire storm" that Wilson ignited.

Wilson said he suspected the disclosure was an effort to punish him for his Op-Ed article.

The federal appeals court here is likely to hear arguments in Millers case in November, her lawyers said. The case has been put on a fast track, and a decision could come by the end of the year or in January.

At the hearing Thursday, a prosecutor, Jim Fleissner, called for "a reality check."

A 1972 Supreme Court case requires reporters to answer questions from grand juries about their confidential sources, he said. The special counsel in the Plame investigation, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, has moved methodically and deferentially, Fleissner added, turning to journalists as a last resort.

"She was obligated to give evidence in relation to an investigation of matters concerning national security," Fleissner said of Miller. "We think confinement is the only sanction which has any hope of achieving what civil contempt means to achieve, which is a coercive influence."

Prosecutors have relied on secret filings in the case to explain to the judge why Millers testimony is required. They have not disclosed the filings to Miller and her lawyers.

One of her lawyers, Floyd Abrams, asked Hogan to release at least a summary of those filings to allow Miller to rebut them, saying that due process required it.

Hogan rejected the request, saying that grand jury rules require secrecy.

If Miller loses her appeal and the Supreme Court does not intercede, she could be jailed until the probe is concluded, until she names her sources or for 18 months, whichever is soonest.

Arthur Sulzberger Jr., publisher of The Times, said he was dismayed by Hogans decision.

"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," he said in a statement. "The protection of confidential sources was critically important to many groundbreaking stories, such as Watergate, the health-threatening practices of the tobacco industry and police corruption."

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