Jailed Reporter Is Distanced From News, Not Elite Visitors
Saturday, September 17, 2005
Locked in the Alexandria Detention Center for the past 11 weeks, New York Times reporter Judith Miller is cut off from the world. She has no Internet access and precious little opportunity to view CNN. Her phone calls are limited, friends say. Her daily newspaper arrives a day late.
But for 30 minutes nearly every day, the world comes to her: A parade of prominent government and media officials, 99 in all, visited Miller between early July, when she was jailed for refusing to be questioned by a federal prosecutor, and Labor Day, according to a document obtained by The Washington Post.
The who's who of friends, supporters and Washington and New York luminaries includes John R. Bolton, President Bush's new ambassador to the United Nations, former "NBC Nightly News" anchor Tom Brokaw and former senator Robert J. Dole (R-Kan.). Gonzalo Marroquin, president of the Inter-American Press Society and director of the Guatemalan daily Prensa Libre has been by.
Most say they want to rally her spirits and show support for what they believe is the right of a free press to protect confidential sources.
"Judy Miller is the most innocent person in this case," Brokaw said in an interview yesterday. "I really thought that was outrageous that she was jailed and we needed as journalists to draw a line in the sand in a strong but thoughtful way."
Miller was jailed July 6 after a federal judge found her in contempt of court for repeatedly refusing to cooperate with special counsel Patrick J. Fitzgerald in the Valerie Plame leak case. Fitzgerald has been investigating whether Bush administration officials broke the law by leaking the name of Plame, then an undercover CIA operative, to the media in retaliation for criticism of the administration leveled by Plame's husband, former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV.
Miller did some reporting on Wilson's claims that the government had twisted intelligence on Iraq's attempt to obtain weapons of mass destruction in the run-up to the war, but never wrote a story. Fitzgerald has questioned other reporters, including two from The Post who provided limited depositions with the consent of their sources, and maintains that it is crucial to his investigation to talk to Miller.
As a low-risk prisoner, Miller, 57, is generally allowed as many as three visitors a day for a total of 30 minutes. An assistant to Miller's lawyer manages the visitation list, and many who have tried to see the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist have been turned away because of the crush of requests. Miller receives advice from her lawyers about prospective visitors, but she has the final say on whom she will see, friends say.
"She's very popular, and it's kind of hard to get on the schedule," said longtime friend Ellen Chesler, who visited Miller in early July but has not been able to get back in since. "She has to turn people away."
Said one court official familiar with her schedule: "She's running an office down there."
Miller could walk out of jail today, leaving behind her green jumpsuit and her job at the jail laundry, by breaking her silence. She has vowed she will not, which means she can expect to remain jailed at least until the end of October, when the term of the current grand jury is scheduled to end. Fitzgerald could seek to extend her detention.
Authorities at the Alexandria Detention Center say it is not unheard-of for some prisoners to receive a visit every day from a spouse or mother. What distinguishes Miller, detention officials concede privately, is the volume and celebrity of the people who have come to talk to her through the plexiglass partition of the tiny visitor center.
"Well, she's not the most famous person we have here," said one employee at the detention center, which also houses convicted al Qaeda terrorist Zacarias Moussaoui. "But she does have some visitors."
Miller's criminal attorney, Robert S. Bennett, said jail authorities show Miller no special treatment and handle her visitation rights "appropriately and professionally."
"There are lot of people, like Senator Dole, that are concerned about her as a friend and as a reporter," Bennett said. "And Judy has a lot of friends."
Those friends include billionaire publisher Mort Zuckerman, blockbuster book editor Alice Mayhew and prolific film director Irwin Winkler and his wife, actress Margo Winkler.
Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) and Sen. Christopher J. Dodd (D-Conn.) have visited to discuss a federal shield law for reporters protecting their sources. Dole, an old friend, came by before Labor Day with an aide, and later wrote an opinion piece in the New York Times urging her release.
The visitor list also includes people who might be key sources for a reporter who covered terrorism and weapons of mass destruction: Richard Clarke, former White House terrorism adviser under Clinton and Bush and his former aides, Roger Cressey and Lisa Gordon-Haggerty.
Miller also hosted Charles Duelfer, who concluded in 2005 that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction but uncovered bribes in the United Nations' oil-for-food program. Even a former secretary of the navy, Richard Danzig, who now works as a bioterrorism consultant to the Pentagon, came through.
Bolton's visit raised some eyebrows in Washington. A vocal defender of administration claims in 2003 that Iraq was seeking weapons of mass destruction, he could have had access to a State Department memo, parts of which were classified, that detailed Wilson's trip to Niger to determine whether Iraq was seeking uranium there and identified his wife as a covert CIA operative. Who saw or discussed the memo has been a central question for Fitzgerald.
Bolton declined through a spokesman to discuss his visit to Miller or his reasons for going. "This has nothing to do with his job here," the spokesman said. "He doesn't want to talk about it."
Times officials have been mainstays on the visitor list, including chairman of the New York Times company Arthur Sulzberger Jr., columnist William Safire, Editor Bill Keller and Managing Editor Jill Abramson.
But friends say the volume of visits does not make up for Miller being largely cut off from the world. Out of respect for her fellow inmates, mostly Spanish-speaking women more interested in entertainment than news, Miller does not push to watch CNN on the shared television.
"This is the toughest aspect of this for a woman who makes her living engaging the world -- to be taken away from the world," Chesler said.