WASHINGTON — A reporter for the New York Times was held in contempt Thursday by a federal judge and faces possible jail time for refusing to divulge sources to prosecutors investigating the leak of an undercover CIA officer's identity.
U.S. District Judge Thomas F. Hogan ordered Judith Miller jailed until she agrees to testify about her sources before a grand jury. She remains free during appeal.
Miller and her attorney, Floyd Abrams, said the ruling undermines the ability of reporters to do their jobs.
"The ability of journalists to give their word, and to keep their word, that they will not reveal their sources is at the heart of journalism," Abrams said.
Hogan, calling the case "a classic confrontation of conflicting interests," cited Supreme Court rulings that reporters do not have absolute First Amendment protection from being compelled to testify before grand juries about confidential sources. While 31 states have laws shielding reporters' sources, no such protections exist in the federal system.
The judge said there was ample evidence that U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald of Chicago, the special prosecutor in the CIA leak case, had exhausted other avenues for obtaining key testimony before issuing subpoenas to Miller and several other reporters. There was no evidence prosecutors were engaging in a "fishing expedition" with reporters, Hogan added.
"The special counsel has made a limited, deferential approach to the press in this matter," Hogan said. "Ms. Miller has no right to refuse to answer the questions she now refuses to answer."
U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald of Chicago Fitzgerald is investigating whether a crime was committed when someone leaked the identity of CIA officer Valerie Plame, whose name was published by syndicated columnist Robert Novak on July 14, 2003. Novak cited two "senior administration officials" as his sources.
The Novak column appeared after Plame's husband, former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, was critical in a newspaper opinion piece of President Bush's claim that Iraq sought to obtain uranium in Niger. The CIA had sent Wilson to Niger to investigate that claim, which he concluded was unfounded.
Wilson has said he believes his wife's name was leaked as payback for his outspokenness.
Abrams said next week he would begin the process of appealing Hogan's ruling to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. He and Miller both noted that although she gathered material for a story about Plame, she never wrote one.
"I think it's really frightening when journalists can be put in jail for doing their job effectively," said Miller, part of a New York Times team that won a Pulitzer Prize for its reporting on al-Qaida and Osama bin Laden.
Fitzgerald also has issued subpoenas to reporters from NBC, Time magazine and The Washington Post. Some have agreed to provide limited testimony after their sources — notably Lewis "Scooter" Libby, who is Vice President Cheney's chief of staff — released them from their promise of confidentiality.
Miller and Bill Keller, the Times' executive editor, said they would not agree to provide testimony even under those circumstances. Abrams pointed out that one of those reporters, Time's Matthew Cooper — who he also represents — has been subjected to a second subpoena from Fitzgerald even after agreeing to give limited testimony.
Novak never has said whether he has been subpoenaed. Several current and former Bush administration officials have testified during the yearlong investigation.
On the Net: Justice Department: www.usdoj.gov