A multimillion lawsuit that columnist Jack Anderson is pressing against officials of the Nixon administration has been jeopardized by Anderson's refusal to disclose his confidential news sources.
Attorneys for former President Richard M. Nixon, who is accused by Anderson of directing a government campaign of harassment against the muckraking columnist, have argued that they need the names of certain of Anderson's sources to prepare their defense against his suit.
But Anderson's lawyers, who have said the sources names are not relevant to the case, made it perfectly clear in court yesterday that the columnist will not disclose their names without each source's permission.
Faced with this unusual legal problem in an already extraordinary court case, U.S. District Court Judge Gerhard A. Gesell said yesterday he would not force Anderson to reveal his sources' names. But Gesell added that Anderson might have to drop his suit or have it dismissed if the judge ruled that the sources' names were relevant to the case. Gesell set a hearing for Jan. 18 to hear full arguments on the issue.
Anderson's suit, which charges the Nixon administration with spying on him and his family, auditing his tax returns, wiretapping his telephone and harassing him in other ways, has been pending in U.S. court here for more than a year. During this time, pretrial discovery proceedings have provided a rare glimpse at usually secret information about the government's activities and Anderson's finances.
Documents turned over by the federal government, and reported earlier by The Washington Post, detailed how agents of the CIA and other U.S. agencies spied on Anderson, followed and photographed his children and even eavesdropped at a luncheon between Anderson and then CIA director Richard Helms.
On the otherside, Anderson himself has had to submit to questioning on his reporting methods by NIxon's attorneys and has made public in the case file his tax returns for the year of 1973.
According to his federal tax return, columnist-lecturer-author Anderson earned $125,000 in personal income and $450,000 in business income in 1973 but claimed deductions totalling $280,000, including his 10 per cent tithe to the Mormon church and 70 per cent of the cost of his vacation home at Rehoboth Bach.
On Tuesday, Anderson gave a nearly 200 page deposition to Nixon's attorneys and was questioned in detail about his reporting techniques and sources. Anderson spent much of the deposition refusing to disclose sources, names, although he did reveal that the late White House aide, Murray Chotine had been a confidential source.
"I don't mind naming him since he is dead," Anderson said in the deposition. "He did ask for confidentiality, but it seems to me that the fact he is dead does permit me to mention his name. I have given it some soul-searching and I feel it is proper to mention his name."
Anderson said he talked to Chotiner "regularly from almost the day he moved into the White House" and that Chotiner was one of three sources who told him former White House chief of staff H. R. Haldeman had ordered a probe of the columnist.
Anderson refused to identify the other two sources. One was a member of Haldeman's staff whose name he does remember. Anderson said, and the other was another White House staffer whose name he does not recall.
In addition, Anderson refused to tell Nixon attorney R. Stan Mortenson, who took the deposition, the names of sources for two other stories. Anderson would not disclose the name of a private electronics expert who said the telephone company had evidence Anderson's phone had been tapped, nor would he disclose the name of person or persons from whom he received information about the Indian-Pakistan war.
Mortenson argued that Anderson "entered this arena himself" and that he must disclose his sources so defense attorneys can question them about Anderson's claims.
Citing a previous appellate court opinion here that says a newsman can under certain circumstances be forced to disclose his news sources in a civil case, Mortenson argued that Anderson should be compelled to disclose the names.
Gasell quickly indicated, however, that he did not think the situation was the same in the Anderson case since Anderson was the plaintiff instead of the defendant. Instead, Gesell said, Anderson might have to make a choice between disclosing the names or abandoning all or part of his claims against the Nixon aides.
Anderson's attorney, William Dobrovir, said that dismissal of the case altogether was "too severe" a sanction to apply against Anderson.Dobrovir indicated he thought the source issue was too peripheral for the whole case to hinge on, and that Anderson would already be at a disadvantage if the case went to a jury because of his own refusal to supply witnesses that might help his cause.
In a recent interview about his 1973 tax returns, Anderson said he claimed his beach house as deduction because he and others on his staff had used it extensively for such purposes as interviews and writing after he bought it that year.
The rules concerning business deductions for private residences have changed to the extent that beach house deductions apparently would no longer be allowed, according to some lawyers involved in the case.
Anderson claimed the 1973 audit of his taxes was a result of harassment. However, an IRS official has testified under oath that the audit was a part of a random audit program that included Anderson solely because he was a taxpayer who made more than $100,000 a year in personal income, more than $150,000 a year in gross business receipts, and had a Social Security number ending in "9".
Anderson's tax returns also included about $100,000 in business losses in connection with property investments. Anderson said in the interview about his finances that those investments since have been turned into blind trusts.
Anderson paid a total of $36,373 in U.S. income tax in 1973, according to the return.
Anderson said that he always has taken the position that his income tax returns are public records but that his returns since 1973 are still being audited and his tax attorney has advised him against providing those to the public for now.
"People who write about or vote on or make policy should make the source and amount of their income available," Anderson said. He said his income has been above the $100,000 mark since 1973, and that he continues to put the income from his column back into the column operation itself while keeping as personal income his lecture and book fees.