Monday, June 27, 2005

U.S. court rejects reporter appeals in leak probe


U.S. court rejects reporter appeals in leak probe

By James Vicini

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday rejected an appeal by two journalists who argued that they should not have to reveal their confidential sources to a grand jury investigating the leak by government officials of a covert CIA operative's name to the news media.

Without any comment or recorded dissent, the justices let stand a U.S. appeals court's ruling that New York Times correspondent Judith Miller and Time magazine reporter Matthew Cooper should be jailed and held in contempt for refusing to testify.

The two cases involved an important test of the rights of reporters to refuse to identify their confidential sources as part of a federal criminal investigation.

Attorneys for the two journalists said courts around the nation have been divided on the issue since the Supreme Court last addressed it in 1972, when it ruled that a reporter who witnesses a crime can be called to testify before a grand jury.

A federal grand jury in Washington has been investigating who leaked the name of CIA operative Valerie Plame in 2003 to syndicated columnist Robert Novak, who revealed her identity in a column.

Plame's husband, Joseph Wilson, a diplomat in the Clinton administration, accused the White House of being responsible for the leak. He said officials did so because Wilson had publicly disputed a claim by President Bush about Iraq's attempts to buy nuclear weapons parts.


Disclosing the identity of a clandestine intelligence officer is a crime. No charges have been brought so far in connection with the grand jury's investigation, which began in January of 2004.

A federal judge ordered that Cooper, who covers the White House, be imprisoned for up to 18 months and that Time Inc., a unit of Time Warner Inc., be fined $1,000 a day until they complied with grand jury subpoenas seeking to force them to reveal the identity of confidential sources.

Miller, who covers national security issues, also faces up to 18 months in prison. The two journalists have remained free while their cases have been pending before the Supreme Court.

Although Miller and Cooper talked to sources about the Plame story, neither had anything to do with leaking her identity.

Attorneys for Cooper and Time argued that reporters have the right to keep sources confidential, under the law and under the First Amendment, which guarantees freedom of the press.

"Confidential sources are critical to reporting on matters of public importance. This case, for example, involves a news story about the validity of the government's justification for war in Iraq and alleged misconduct by senior officials aimed at discrediting critics of the war," they said.

Floyd Abrams, an attorney representing Miller, made a similar argument.

"Throughout our country's history, much significant reporting about serious national issues would have been impossible but for information provided by (confidential) sources," he said, citing the Watergate scandal and the Pentagon Papers, the secret history of the Vietnam War.

The two journalists were supported in their appeal by a number of news media companies and by 34 states, which said the lack of federal protection for journalists undermined state laws that shield them from naming confidential sources.

Justice Department special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald urged the high court to reject the appeals "so that the investigation can be brought to a close."

By the autumn of 2004, the investigation "was for all practical purposes complete except for the testimony of Miller and Cooper," he said.