A federal judge has held a Time magazine reporter in contempt of court for refusing to testify in an investigation of the leak of a CIA officer's identity, rejecting requests from two media organizations to quash federal grand jury subpoenas seeking information from the media.
U.S. District Chief Judge Thomas F. Hogan ruled that the First Amendment does not insulate reporters from Time and NBC News from a requirement to testify before a criminal grand jury that is conducting the investigation into the possible illegal disclosure of classified information. He unsealed an order that demands the "confinement" of Time reporter Matthew Cooper, who has refused to testify in the probe, but stayed it pending an appeal.
The judge's opinion, reached July 20 but not released until yesterday, will be immediately appealed, Time executives said. Hogan also issued an Aug. 6 order confining Cooper "at a suitable place until such time as he is willing to comply with the grand jury subpoena," and ordered Time to be fined $1,000 a day. The fine was also stayed while the magazine's expedited appeal is considered.
While NBC fought a subpoena issued May 21 and was included in the opinion, it avoided a contempt citation after Tim Russert, moderator of NBC's "Meet the Press," agreed to an interview over the weekend in which he answered a limited number of questions posed by special prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald, NBC said in a statement.
Lawyers involved in the case said it appears that Fitzgerald is now armed with a strong and unambiguous court ruling to demand the testimony of two journalists -- syndicated columnist Robert D. Novak, who first disclosed the CIA officer's name, and Washington Post reporter Walter Pincus, who has written that a Post reporter received information about her from a Bush administration official.
Pincus was served with a subpoena yesterday after Hogan's order was unsealed.
In their statement, NBC officials said Russert agreed to the interview after first resisting on First Amendment grounds. NBC lawyers reached an accommodation with the prosecutor in which Russert "was not required to appear before the grand jury and was not asked questions that would have required him to disclose information provided to him in confidence."
Washington Post reporter Glenn Kessler agreed to a similar interview with Fitzgerald's office earlier this summer. In both Kessler's case and Russert's, prosecutors' questions concerned conversations the reporters had in early July 2003 with Lewis I. "Scooter" Libby, chief of staff for Vice President Cheney. Both reporters have said they told Fitzgerald's staff that Libby did not disclose the identity of the CIA employee, Valerie Plame, to them.
Fitzgerald has shown a continuing interest in Libby, witnesses have said, but it now appears that his reasons may be more complex than was first apparent. Libby has signed a waiver allowing reporters to tell the prosecutor whether he disclosed Plame's name to them. Prosecutors have e-mails and phone records showing his contacts with reporters, and witnesses have said they are interested in a story Cooper wrote last summer in which Libby was interviewed.
The investigation was sparked by a July 14, 2003, column by Novak that called into question the findings of an outspoken Bush foreign policy critic sent to the African nation of Niger in 2002 to investigate claims that Iraq had tried to buy uranium there for its weapons of mass destruction program. Cheney had asked for more information about fragmentary intelligence on the subject.
The envoy, former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV, was recommended for the CIA mission by his wife, Plame, a CIA nonproliferation "operative," Novak wrote, adding that two administration officials offered the information as an explanation of why Wilson was selected. By then, Wilson was publicly accusing the Bush administration of "twisting" intelligence, including his findings in Niger, to build a case for going to war in Iraq.
Novak's lawyer, James Hamilton, declined to comment yesterday on whether his client has received a subpoena.
Pincus co-wrote a story last October that said an administration official gave similar information to a Post reporter on July 12, 2003 -- before Novak's column appeared -- though Plame's name was not disclosed at the time. Washington Post counsel Mary Ann Werner confirmed yesterday that Fitzgerald has demanded testimony from Pincus.
"We intend to file a motion to quash the subpoena," she said.