New York Times' Judith Miller

Criminal Contempt Could Lengthen Reporter's Jail Stay

By Howard Kurtz and Carol D. Leonnig
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, July 16, 2005

Lawyers in the CIA leaks investigation are concerned that special prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald may seek criminal contempt charges against New York Times reporter Judith Miller, a rare move that could significantly lengthen her time in jail.

Miller, now in her 10th day in the Alexandria jail, already faces as much as four months of incarceration for civil contempt after refusing to answer questions before a grand jury about confidential conversations she had in reporting a story in the summer of 2003. Fitzgerald and Chief U.S. District Judge Thomas F. Hogan have both raised the possibility in open court that Miller could be charged with criminal contempt if she continues to defy Hogan's order to cooperate in the investigation of who may have unlawfully leaked the name of undercover CIA operative Valerie Plame to the media.

The unusual threat in the case underscores the sensitivity of an investigation that has reached the highest levels of the White House and the prosecutor's determination to extract information from reluctant journalists even though he has yet to charge anyone with a crime. What secrets Miller can unlock for Fitzgerald -- and the reasons he has so doggedly pursued her -- have been a subject of considerable mystery.

While media coverage in recent days has focused on conversations White House senior adviser Karl Rove had with reporters, two sources say Miller spoke with Vice President Cheney's chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, during the key period in July 2003 that is the focus of Fitzgerald's investigation.

The two sources, one who is familiar with Libby's version of events and the other with Miller's, said the previously undisclosed conversation occurred a few days before Plame's name appeared in Robert D. Novak's syndicated column on July 14, 2003. Miller and Libby discussed former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV, Plame's husband, who had recently alleged that the Bush administration twisted intelligence in the run-up to the Iraq war, according to the source familiar with Libby's version.

But, according to the source, the subject of Wilson's wife did not come up.

Miller and the Times have said the reporter has chosen jail to keep promises she made to protect the identity of confidential sources. But Libby's attorney, Joseph A. Tate, has told the New York Times that he provided reporters with assurances that they could rely on the waivers releasing them to talk to Fitzgerald. Tate did not return phone calls placed for this story on Thursday and Friday.

Hogan has publicly chided Miller for "alleging" that she was protecting the identity of a source who Hogan said had freed her to speak about their conversations.

Miller has said she was reporting on Wilson's criticism of administration claims that Iraq was seeking uranium for weapons of mass destruction, but did not write a story.

One of Miller's attorneys, veteran First Amendment lawyer Floyd Abrams, yesterday declined to confirm the meeting with Libby or to discuss any waivers his client may have received.

"Judy's view is that any purported waiver she got from anyone was not on the face of it sufficiently broad, clear and uncoerced," Abrams said.

Four other reporters, including two from The Washington Post, have answered some of the prosecutors' questions after receiving specific waivers from their sources, including Libby.

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