Reporters Without Borders today deplored a judge’s decision that Time magazine reporter Matthew Cooper’s notes of his conversations with Vice-President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, Lewis “Scooter” Libby, should be handed over to the lawyers defending Libby on charges of perjury and obstructing justice.
Federal judge Reggie B. Walton’s 26 May ruling “failed to respect the independence of the press,” the press freedom organisation said.
Libby is suspected of telling Cooper and other journalists that Valerie Plame, the wife of a foreign service officer who criticised the Iraq invasion decision, was a CIA agent. He is currently accused of perjury and obstructing justice for allegedly lying to a federal grand jury about the source of the Plame leak. The case is expected to come to trial next January.
Libby and his lawyers are meanwhile on the counter-attack, trying to cast doubt on the good faith of the journalists he supposedly took into his confidence. As well as Cooper, he has also asked Judith Miller of the New York Times and Andrea Mitchell of NBC News to surrender notes, files and e-mails that could help his defence.
After examining the files, Judge Walton said he found a few differences between Cooper’s notes of his conversations with Libby and the written account he submitted to a preliminary hearing before a grand jury, and that he was therefore ordering Cooper to hand them over to Libby’s lawyers. “For the time being,” his decision did not concern Miller or Mitchell, he said. Walton said journalists did not have First Amendment protection in a criminal case.
Cooper and Miller were found guilty of contempt of court twice for refusing to reveal their sources. After the supreme court refused to rule on their case on 27 June 2005, Cooper avoided going to prison by naming Libby as his source. Miller was imprisoned from 6 July to 29 September when she, too, finally gave in. She has since left the New York Times.
30.09.05 - Judith Miller is freed, but at the expense of the confidentiality of sources
Reporters Without Borders today hailed the release yesterday of New York Times reporter Judith Miller, who had been in prison since 6 July for refusing to reveal a source, but the organisation regretted that, in order to obtain her freedom, she has been forced to violate the principle that journalists’ sources are confidential.
“Miller’s release is obviously good news in itself, but she recovered her freedom in exchange for naming her source, albeit with the source’s agreement, which means that the principle of the confidentiality of sources, one of the pillars of journalism, has been flouted,” the press freedom organisation said.
“The fight must go on for recognition of this principle by the US federal justice system,” Reporters Without Borders said. “We hope that congress, where two bills on this question have been presented, will tackle this quickly.”
Miller emerged yesterday afternoon from Alexandria federal prison in the eastern state of Virginia where she had spent nearly 12 weeks. She was released under an agreement with federal prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, who held her in contempt of court for refusing to name her source in the case of Valerie Plame, the former CIA agent whose name was leaked to the press in 2003.
Miller’s refusal led to her being sentenced twice by a federal appeal court, as was Matthew Cooper of Time. After the supreme court on 27 June refused to take up their case, Cooper avoided going to prison by finally agreeing to name his source but Miller continued to refuse. The New York Times has reported that her source was Lewis Libby, a close aide of Vice-President Dick Cheney. Miller is expected to confirm this today to the grand jury of the federal appeal court that previously sent her to jail.
It is now up to legislators to settle the debate about the confidentiality of journalists’ sources. Two bills on the subject were presented to congress in February but have yet to be debated. Their passage would put an end to a legal void under which this principle is not recognised at the federal level but is, in theory, in 31 states that have so-called shield laws.