Published On: Wed, Aug 28th, 2013

DOJ reasserts NY Times reporter James Risen must testify in Jeffrey Sterling whisteblower case

The US Department of Justice has reasserted its view that New York Times reporter James Risen cannot claim First Amendment privilege in refusing to testify in a leak case allegedly stemming from a former CIA officer.

Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

The DOJ’s decision to stand by its earlier calls for Risen’s testimony will have certain ramifications for the future of government whistleblowers and the open exercise of the right of a free press.

Former CIA officer Jeffrey Sterling faces charges of violating the Espionage Act for divulging supposedly sensitive national security information.

In Sterling’s case, the charges come from the disclosure of a secret program “intended to impede Iran’s efforts to acquire or develop nuclear weapons” published in Risen’s 2006 book “State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration.”

A federal appeals court ruled in July that Risen did not have a reporter’s privilege to refuse testimony, which overruled a previous ruling by a district court that Risen did have that right.

Risen then both directly appealed to the DOJ to meet with him (the letter went unanswered) and petitioned for the appeals court to rehear his claims of First Amendment privilege.

The DOJ’s latest statement denied the rehearing.

Risen seized on these new guidelines in his direct letter to the DOJ in July. The letter stated, “The DOJ’s recent decision to strengthen its already-strict, voluntarily guidelines for subpoenaing members of the media provides further evidence of the near unanimous consensus that journalists should have a qualified privilege not to reveal their confidential sources and further support a finding of a common law privilege.”

“Risen asserts that the Justice Department’s recent revisions to its internal guidelines concerning investigations involving members of the press support a common law privilege…. That is incorrect. Although the Department has made significant changes to parts of its internal guidelines — in particular, to the guidelines governing the notice that must be given to reporters before the government may obtain their business records through legal process — the basic requirements Risen cites (that the information is essential, unavailable from another source, and sought as a last resort) have been in place for decades and have not changed.”

In May, it was revealed the DOJ had seized several Associated Press phone records. In addition, Fox News reporter James Rosen was labeled an “aider, abettor and co-conspirator” in another leak investigation involving a source facing the Espionage Act.Furthermore, in rejecting a rehearing in a federal appeals court, the DOJ wrote that none of the previous court cases Risen noted in his petition when arguing journalistic privilege maintain “that a reporter who witnesses a crime and promises not to identify the perpetrator … has a privilege not to testify in a criminal proceeding. Indeed, every court of appeals to confront that situation has agreed with the panel.”

The letter notes that US District Judge Leonie M. Brinkema in 2011 rejected the argument made by the government that Risen was the only source capable of providing the information necessary to assess Sterling was his source.

In addition, the dissenting judge in the appeals court ruling cited strong evidence linking Risen and Sterling, noting the government had phone records and email records connecting the two.

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About the Author

- Writer and Co-Founder of The Global Dispatch, Brandon has been covering news, offering commentary for years, beginning professionally in 2003 on Crazed Fanboy before expanding into other blogs and sites. Appearing on several radio shows, Brandon has hosted Dispatch Radio, written his first novel (The Rise of the Templar) and completed the three years Global University program in Ministerial Studies to be a pastor. To Contact Brandon email [email protected] ATTN: BRANDON

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