NEWS MEDIA UPDATE · WASHINGTON, D.C. · Secret Courts · Feb. 5, 2007
Judge orders Libby’s recordings be released to public
Feb. 5, 2007 · U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton reluctantly ruled today in favor of the 14 news organizations who filed papers last week requesting that the audio recordings of I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby’s grand jury testimony be released to the public.
The testimony, which is seven hours long, includes Libby describing to the grand jury conversations he had about Valerie Plame, the covert CIA agent whose identity was leaked to the press in 2003. Libby is not charged with the leak itself, however, he is on trial in for perjury and obstruction of justice.
Libby’s defense attorney, William Jeffress, opposed the release of the tapes. He argued that as the tapes were broadcast on TV news programs, radio stations and the Internet, the news media would add commentary to the tapes that could further influence jurors’ opinions on the matter.
The news organizations, including The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, said in court filings that courts have recognized the public’s right to view trial exhibits at the same time as the jury does. The media cited trials such as that of Sept. 11 conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui, when an appeals court said the media must have copies of trial exhibits – including audiotapes of 911 calls made from the World Trade Center – on the same day the jury heard them.
Walton expressed concern that the public release of the Libby audiotapes could have an effect on Libby’s right to a fair trial. But he ruled in favor of the media in accordance with the law as applied in the federal courts, especially in the Washington, D.C., circuit.
“It’s a great victory for the news media, as this is a critical piece of evidence for the trial,” said Nathan Siegel, the attorney for the media.
Siegel said the judge’s decision will “allow more direct coverage of the case than before.”
The tapes will be released to the public after they are finished being played for the jury at trial, which will likely be Tuesday.
(United States v. Libby, Media Counsel: Nathan Siegel, Levine Sullivan Koch & Schulz LLP, Washington, D.C.) — AG