A reporter is being held in contempt of court and faces possible jail time, and another was earlier threatened by a federal judge with the same fate, after they refused to answer questions from a special prosecutor investigating whether administration officials illegally disclosed the name of a covert CIA officer last year.
Newly released court orders show U.S. District Court Chief Judge Thomas F. Hogan two weeks ago ordered Matt Cooper of Time magazine and Tim Russert of NBC to appear before a grand jury and tell whether they knew that White House sources provided the identity of CIA officer Valerie Plame to the media.
The Justice Department probe is trying to determine whether this information was provided knowingly, in violation of the law. Hogan's orders show that special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald believes Cooper and Russert know the answer.
Cooper still refused to answer questions after Hogan's July 20 order, and on Aug. 6 Hogan held him in contempt of court and ordered that he go to jail. Cooper has been released on bond pending his emergency appeal to a federal appeals court. Hogan has ordered that Time pay a $1,000 fine for each day Cooper does not appear before the grand jury.
Sources close to the investigation said they believe Russert was not held in contempt Aug. 6 because he agreed to answer the questions after Hogan's July 20 ruling.
Both journalists had earlier tried to quash the subpoenas issued by Fitzgerald in May. But, citing a Supreme Court decision, Judge Hogan ruled that journalists have no privilege to protect anonymous sources when the state has a compelling interest to investigate or prosecute a crime.
Hogan wrote in his just-unsealed order that the information requested from Cooper and Russert is "very limited" and that "all available alternative means of obtaining the information have been exhausted." He added that "the testimony sought is expected to constitute direct evidence of innocence or guilt."
Sources close to the case say that Fitzgerald's investigation is reaching the critical stage of questioning reporters under oath before the grand jury. His team has already questioned several high-ranking administration officials or received their statements. Among those who have been interviewed is President Bush.
Fitzgerald is investigating whether Bush administration officials knowingly leaked Plame's name to syndicated columnist Robert D. Novak last July. Plame is married to former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV, a public critic of the Bush administration's claims about Iraq's efforts to develop weapons of mass destruction. Wilson earlier suggested that administration officials disclosed his wife's identity as retaliation for his criticism.
The disclosure of a covert CIA officer's name could be a felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison if it was done intentionally by an official who knew the government was trying to maintain the agent's cover.
The disclosure came in a column Novak published last July 14. He said that when he wondered why the CIA selected Wilson in 2002 to investigate claims that Iraq had tried to buy uranium in Niger, two administration officials told him that Wilson's wife worked at the CIA and set up the trip.