New York Times reporter Judith Miller was released from jail late yesterday and is scheduled to testify this morning before a federal grand jury investigating whether any government officials illegally leaked the identity of CIA operative Valerie Plame to the media, according to lawyers involved in the case.
Miller, 57, has been jailed for contempt of court since July 6 for refusing to testify about conversations with news sources. She was released from the Alexandria Detention Center shortly after 4 p.m. yesterday after her attorney Robert S. Bennett reached an agreement on her testimony with special prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald, according to two lawyers familiar with the case.
Miller had refused to testify about information she received from confidential sources. But she said she changed her mind after I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, chief of staff for Vice President Cheney, assured her in a telephone call last week that a waiver he gave prosecutors authorizing them to question reporters about their conversations with him was not coerced.
"It's good to be free," Miller said in a statement last night. "I went to jail to preserve the time-honored principle that a journalist must respect a promise not to reveal the identity of a confidential source. . . . I am leaving jail today because my source has now voluntarily and personally released me from my promise of confidentiality regarding our conversations relating to the Wilson-Plame matter."
New York Times Executive Editor Bill Keller said in a statement: "Judy refused to testify in this case because she gave her professional word that she would keep her interview with her source confidential. In recent days, several important things have changed that convinced Judy that she was released from her obligation."
But Joseph Tate, an attorney for Libby, said yesterday that he told Miller attorney Floyd Abrams a year ago that Libby's waiver was voluntary and that Miller was free to testify. He said last night that he was contacted by Bennett several weeks ago, and was surprised to learn that Miller had not accepted that representation as authorization to speak with prosecutors.
"We told her lawyers it was not coerced," Tate said. "We are surprised to learn we had anything to do with her incarceration."
Tate said that he and Bennett then asked Fitzgerald whether their clients could talk without fear of being accused of obstructing the investigation, and were assured that Fitzgerald would not oppose them doing so. After the phone call from Libby on Sept. 19 or 20, Tate said, the lawyers wrote a letter to Fitzgerald indicating Miller accepted Libby's representation that the waiver was voluntary.
In July, when Chief U.S. District Judge Thomas F. Hogan ordered Miller to jail, he told her she was mistaken in her belief that she was defending a free press, stressing that the government source she "alleges she is protecting" had released her from her promise of confidentiality.
Fitzgerald has been investigating whether senior Bush administration officials broke the law by knowingly leaking Plame's identity to reporters as retaliation for an opinion article written by her husband, former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV. Wilson accused the administration of twisting intelligence about Iraq's attempt to obtain weapons of mass destruction in the run-up to the war.
Plame's name first appeared in a syndicated column by Robert D. Novak in July 2003, eight days after Wilson's accusations.
According to a source familiar with Libby's account of his conversations with Miller in July 2003, the subject of Wilson's wife came up on two occasions. In the first, on July 8, Miller met with Libby to interview him about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, the source said.
At that time, she asked him why Wilson had been chosen to investigate questions Cheney had posed about whether Iraq tried to buy uranium in the African nation of Niger. Libby, the source familiar with his account said, told her that the White House was working with the CIA to find out more about Wilson's trip and how he was selected.
Libby told Miller he heard that Wilson's wife had something to do with sending him but he did not know who she was or where she worked, the source said.
Libby had a second conversation with Miller on July 12 or July 13, the source said, in which he said he had learned that Wilson's wife had a role in sending him on the trip and that she worked for the CIA. Libby never knew Plame's name or that she was a covert operative, the source said.
Libby did not talk to Novak about the case, the source said.
One lawyer involved in the case said Miller's attorneys reached an agreement with Fitzgerald that may confine prosecutors' questions solely to Miller's conversations with Libby. Bennett, reached last night, said he could not discuss the terms of the agreement for Miller's testimony. Abrams did not return a call seeking comment.
One lawyer said it could become clear as early as next week whether Fitzgerald plans to indict anyone or has negotiated a plea bargain.
Other reporters, including Matthew Cooper of Time magazine and Glenn Kessler of The Washington Post, have provided limited testimony about their conversations with Libby after receiving what they said were explicit waivers of their confidentiality agreements.
In July, on the day he was scheduled to be jailed along with Miller, Cooper agreed to be questioned by Fitzgerald. He said his source, who turned out to be Karl Rove, President Bush's close political adviser, had assured Cooper he had voluntarily provided a waiver of their confidentiality agreement. In recent months, Rove's role in the saga has become more clear. He testified that he discussed Wilson's wife with Cooper and Novak but that he never mentioned her by name.
Lawyers involved in the case believe today's testimony could mark the end of an investigation in which more than a dozen Bush administration officials have testified before a federal grand jury or have talked to FBI agents involved in the nearly two-year-old probe. Bush was interviewed as part of the investigation.
Fitzgerald cast a wide net, interviewing numerous State Department officials and some of Bush's closest advisers, to determine if anyone illegally revealed Plame's name.
Fitzgerald has made it clear for more than a year that Miller was the main obstacle to completing the case and that he was prepared to exert pressure on her to testify. People involved in the case said they began to hear earlier this week that Miller was looking for a way out of jail.
In recent weeks, people close to Miller said her attorneys grew anxious that Fitzgerald would extend her time behind bars. Fitzgerald has the authority to extend the grand jury investigating possible leaks for another 18 months, and he could ask the judge to hold Miller in jail for six more months, lawyers familiar with the case said.
Miller's role had been one of the great mysteries in the leak probe. It is unclear why she emerged as a central figure in the probe despite not writing a story about the case.
Staff writer Carol D. Leonnig contributed to this report.