Risen must testify about date, use of quotes, book proposal

Kristen Rasmussen | Reporter's Privilege | Feature | October 12, 2011

James Risen must testify about non-protected matters in the upcoming trial of an alleged ex-CIA leaker, per a court order allowing the New York Times reporter to keep his confidential source secret but requiring him to verify the accuracy of his reporting, according to a POLITICO article.

U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema, of Alexandria, Va., stated in a hearing Wednesday that Risen’s testimony will be strictly limited, per her July order that the First Amendment-based reporter’s privilege shields Risen from naming the source of top-secret information about a botched operation intended to injure Iran’s nuclear program.

The U.S. Department of Justice alleges that Jeffrey Sterling, a former CIA operations officer, leaked the information to the two-time Pulitzer Prize winner who purportedly published some of that information in Chapter 9 of his 2006 book “State of War.”

In quashing the Justice Department’s third subpoena for the testimony of Risen, who covers national security for the Times, Brinkema ordered the journalist to testify only as to the accuracy of his reporting, allowing him to keep his source secret. Wednesday's hearing amounted to Brinkema's ruling on the government's motion to reconsider that order.

Part of the authentication of the accuracy, Brinkema ruled Wednesday, includes testimony from Risen about whether quotations and italicized passages in his book are the literal words uttered by the person quoted or a third-person omniscient narrative used to disguise an author’s source or some other writing style, according to the POLITICO report.

The questioning will be limited to Risen’s use of quotes in the relevant chapter generally and may not extend to inquiries about each individual quote, which could lead to an identity of the source, the judge added.

Brinkema also ruled that Risen must testify to the jury about the timeframe during which he received the majority of the information about the CIA operation in Iran. A sworn statement he submitted to the court earlier declared he did the relevant reporting in 2003.

Finally, Brinkema ordered Risen to verify the accuracy of a separate document similar to a book proposal he submitted to Simon & Schuster, Risen's publisher. It includes the line, "CIA officers involved have come to the author to discuss the case," but because Risen did not retain a copy of the document, he likely will not be able to testify that it is exactly what he submitted to the book publisher, Risen's lawyer, Joel Kurtzberg, told the judge, as reported in POLITICO.

Sterling, of O’Fallon, Mo., faces 10 counts, including unauthorized disclosure of national defense information and obstruction of justice. The indictment in United States v. Sterling alleges that Sterling, who worked at the CIA from 1993 until he was fired in 2002, had conflicts with the agency that culminated in his filing of a racial discrimination complaint. According to the indictment, these hostilities served as Sterling’s motivation for leaking the information.

His trial is scheduled to start Monday, according to the POLITICO story.