Scientist Presses Case For Reporters' Sources
Wednesday, July 4, 2007
Lawyers for former Army scientist Steven J. Hatfill urged a judge yesterday to order several journalists to disclose the names of law enforcement sources who leaked details of the investigation of Hatfill in the 2001 anthrax attacks.
Hatfill, a physician and bioterrorism expert, has not been charged in the attacks, in which five people were killed and 17 were sickened by anthrax bacteria mailed in envelopes. In a lawsuit, he accuses the Justice Department of violating the federal Privacy Act by giving the news media information about the FBI's investigation of him.
To help prove their case, in which Hatfill is seeking an unspecified monetary award, his attorneys want several reporters, including Allan Lengel of The Washington Post, to reveal the identities of law enforcement officials who were cited anonymously in stories about the investigation. The journalists contend that the First Amendment and a federal common-law privilege shield them from having to disclose the names.
U.S. District Judge Reggie B. Walton, who is presiding in the case, began hearing arguments on the issue yesterday in Washington. He set aside time next week for further arguments before he issues a ruling.
No one has been arrested in the attacks, which took place in the fall of 2001. Hatfill, who worked at the Army's infectious diseases laboratory at Fort Detrick in Frederick County from 1997 to 1999, was publicly identified as "a person of interest" in the investigation by then-Attorney General John D. Ashcroft.
Hatfill's lead attorney, Charles Thomas Kimmett Jr., said his client has met the requirements of "a two-pronged test," established in case law, under which the reporters should be compelled to disclose the identities of their sources.
He said Hatfill has shown that the names of the law enforcement officials are "at the heart of the matter" in his lawsuit -- that to prevail in the case, Hatfill needs to know who the sources were. Kimmett said Hatfill also has "exhausted all reasonable alternatives" for finding out the names and can learn them only from the reporters.
Lawyer Kevin T. Baine, representing The Post, Newsweek and ABC-TV, argued that Walton's decision should not be based on "a formulaic two-pronged" test, saying "the First Amendment has to mean more than that." He said the journalists were acting in the public's best interest by covering the anthrax investigation and, as a result, they should be allowed to protect the identities of people who helped them.
Besides Lengel, the other journalists include Michael Isikoff and Daniel Klaidman of Newsweek; James Stewart of CBS News; Toni Locy, formerly of USA Today; and Brian Ross of ABC News.