At a hearing today in federal court in Detroit, a judge delayed ruling on whether to hold Detroit Free Press reporter David Ashenfelter in contempt for refusing to reveal confidential sources, the paper reported.
Ashenfelter is fighting a subpoena from former federal prosecutor Richard Convertino, who subpoenaed the reporter for information to boost his Privacy Act lawsuit against the Department of Justice. Convertino sued the DOJ for leaking information to the press about an internal investigation into his conduct during a terrorism trial in Detroit.
At a deposition in December, Ashenfelter invoked the Fifth Amendment in response to questions from Convertino’s attorneys. Convertino subsequently asked the court to hold Ashenfelter in contempt and to impose sanctions on him for refusing to testify.
In papers filed before the court, Ashenfelter’s attorney, Herschel Fink, argued that the reporter could be prosecuted for several crimes – including violating the Espionage Act or conspiracy for any crime committed by DOJ officials. As evidence Fink pointed to statements made by Convertino calling Ashenfelter a criminal.
Judge Robert Cleland invited DOJ officials to the hearing today to comment on the likelihood that Ashenfelter could be prosecuted for a crime. Those officials told the judge that they could not give a definitive answer as to whether Ashenfelter could, or would, face criminal charges if he testified, the Free Press reported.
Cleland’s refusal to rule from the bench today means that a written opinion will be forthcoming.