WASHINGTON, D.C. — Some reporters at the plea agreement hearing of former CIA employee Aldrich Ames, who was charged with espionage, complained that they were excluded from the courtroom because government officials and members of the local press were given priority seating.
In late April, Ames pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Va., to spying for Moscow. About 75 journalists stood in line for seats in the small courtroom.
David Johnston, a reporter for the New York Times, said that he became involved in an altercation with a federal marshal and was threatened with arrest after he complained that two Washington Post reporters from the back of the line were let in. Reporters from the Associated Press and the major broadcast networks were left out of the courtroom.
New York Times Washington Editor Andrew Rosenthal sent a letter of complaint to U.S. District Judge Claude Hilton and Carl Stern of the Justice Department. He said the courtroom was filled up with extraneous federal officials and their wives and that no effort was made to accommodate the media. He said that seating shortages happen “all of the time with high profile cases and this one was mishandled.”
Stern told the AP that although no decision was made to allow more seats for government workers, marshals did give government officials preference.
Rosenthal said the paper will not pursue further action but wanted to make sure that the court knew about the situation.
(U.S. v. Ames)
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