Reporters Committee, journalism organizations ask Attorney General to withdraw Risen subpoena

Press Release | August 21, 2013
James Risen

A coalition of 46 news media organizations, including the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, has asked U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to withdraw a Department of Justice subpoena issued to reporter James Risen in a criminal case.

The coalition letter supports a July 25 letter by Risen's attorneys requesting the same action. It argues that pursuing Risen's testimony is inconsistent with the Justice Department's new policy on media subpoenas, as announced by Holder in a report to the president on July 12.

The coalition wrote that "the new Department policy authorizes a subpoena to a member of the news media only 'as a last resort, after all reasonable alternative investigative steps have been taken, and when the information sought is essential to a successful investigation or prosecution.' At this stage in the case, the question before the Department is more one of policy than law, and from that perspective the court proceedings below support withdrawal of the subpoena despite the outcome in the Fourth Circuit."

Holder’s “Report on Review of News Media Policies,” promising stronger protections for journalists, came out a week before the U.S. Court of Appeals in Richmond (4th Cir.) ruled that Risen must testify in the trial of Jeffrey Sterling, a former C.I.A. officer and alleged leaker.

“We know that the Attorney General worked very hard to ensure that the revised DOJ guidelines would acknowledge that subpoenaing a reporter about confidential sources is truly a last resort,” said Reporters Committee Legal Defense Director Gregg P. Leslie. “We certainly hope that the Justice Department will abide by these standards and withdraw the Risen subpoena.”

About the Reporters Committee

Founded in 1970, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press offers free legal support to thousands of working journalists and media lawyers each year. It is a leader in the fight against persistent efforts by government officials to impede the release of public information, whether by withholding documents or threatening reporters with jail. In addition to its 24/7 Legal Defense Hotline, the Reporters Committee conducts cutting-edge legal research, publishes handbooks and guides on media law issues, files frequent friend-of-the-court legal briefs and offers challenging fellowships and internships for young lawyers and journalists. For more information, go to, or follow us on Twitter @rcfp.

(Risen photo above courtesy of The New York Times)

Related Reporters Committee resources:

· News: Risen lawyers ask Justice Department to drop subpoena

· Amending the Department of Justice subpoena guidelines

· Brief: RCFP media coalition letter re Risen