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Time reporter held in contempt of court

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  1. Protecting Sources and Materials

    News Media Update         WASHINGTON, D.C.         Confidentiality/Privilege    

Time reporter held in contempt of court

  • A federal judge refused to quash the subpoenas issued to Time reporter Matthew Cooper and “Meet the Press” host Tim Russert in the Plame leak investigation.

Aug. 9, 2004 — A federal judge in Washington, D.C., held Time magazine reporter Matthew Cooper in contempt of court on Friday for failing to answer questions before a grand jury investigating the leak of undercover CIA officer Valerie Plame’s identity.

Special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, who was appointed to lead the leak investigation last fall, subpoenaed Cooper and Tim Russert, host of NBC’s “Meet the Press,” in May to testify before a grand jury concerning alleged conversations the reporters had with an unidentified government official.

Russert was not held in contempt because he agreed to testify. Neal Shapiro, president of NBC News, said in a statement that Russert answered “only limited questions” about a July 2003 phone conversation he had with Vice President Cheney’s chief of staff, Lewis “Scooter” Libby, “without revealing any information he learned in confidence.”

In a newly released opinion dated July 20, Chief Judge Thomas Hogan of U.S. District Court rejected motions by Cooper and Russert to quash the subpoenas on First Amendment grounds. Citing the Supreme Court’s 1972 decision in Branzburg v. Hayes , Hogan concluded that “Cooper and Russert have no privilege, qualified or otherwise, excusing them from testifying before the grand jury in this matter.”

“[W]hatever extent lower courts around the country have eroded the periphery of the Branzburg opinion, the core of the opinion stands strong” and directly controlled the outcome in the case at hand, Hogan wrote. He further rejected the argument that Branzburg applies only to reporters who witness criminal activity, and not to reporters protecting confidential sources.

Cooper refused to comply with the order and was ordered to jail. However, he was released on bond pending his emergency appeal to the federal appeals court in Washington, D.C., the Post reported. Cooper was ordered to pay a $1,000-per-day fine until he complies with Hogan’s order.

The leak investigation began after conservative columnist Robert Novak wrote about Plame in a July 2003 column, citing two “administration officials” as his sources. Novak has not publicly named the officials, although it is believed that many other Washington-area journalists were fed the information.

The leaker or leakers could face criminal charges under the Intelligence Identities Protection Act of 1982, which makes the knowing disclosure of an undercover operative’s identity a federal crime.

Plame’s name was revealed after her husband, former Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV, publicly criticized the Bush administration’s assertion that Iraq had been attempting to buy uranium from Niger to make nuclear weapons. Wilson, who was sent to Niger by the CIA to investigate the claims, has accused various White House staff members of making the disclosure in retaliation.

Several key White House officials have been interviewed in the investigation, including President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of State Colin Powell.

(In re special counsel investigation; Media Counsel for Time magazine: Floyd Abrams, Cahill, Gordon & Reindel, LLP, New York City; Media Counsel for NBC: Lee Levine, Levine, Sullivan, Koch & Schulz, Washington, D.C.) KM

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