Journalists at Time magazine and NBC News were subpoenaed yesterday to appear before a federal grand jury investigating whether administration officials illegally leaked the name of an undercover CIA officer last summer.
Tim Russert, host of NBC's "Meet the Press," and Time reporter Matthew Cooper were subpoenaed by special prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald. NBC said in a statement that it would fight the subpoena, as did a lawyer for Time.
"Time Inc.'s policy is to protect confidential sources," said Robin Bierstedt, deputy general counsel for the magazine.
Bierstedt said the prosecutors asked Time a week ago to cooperate but the magazine declined to do so. She said Fitzgerald wants to question Cooper about a story that appeared in Time on July 21, 2003, and another that ran on Time's Web site on July 17.
On July 14, columnist Robert D. Novak wrote that when he asked why the CIA sent former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV -- a critic of the Bush administration's foreign policy -- to check claims that Iraq had attempted to buy uranium in Niger, he was told by two administration officials that Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, a CIA officer, had recommended her husband for the trip.
Under federal law, it is a crime to reveal a covert officer's identity if it is done with the intention of exposing the officer's undercover status.
The request to interview reporters may suggest that the probe is nearing a conclusion, because Justice Department guidelines require that prosecutors exhaust all other avenues before calling reporters before a grand jury. Attorneys for several grand jury witnesses and news organizations said it is not clear whether Fitzgerald is moving toward seeking indictments in the case or whether he is preparing to complete it without bringing criminal charges.
Last week, Fitzgerald asked to interview reporters at The Washington Post and Newsday. A Newsday lawyer said last night that the paper had declined the request but has not received a subpoena.
Eric Lieberman, a Post lawyer, declined yesterday to comment on the response to the request for voluntary interviews with reporters Walter Pincus and Glenn Kessler. He also would not comment on whether the reporters have been subpoenaed.