Matthew Cooper is a witness to a crime, the fact that he is also a journalist is irrelevant.
WASHINGTON A U.S. district judge here is threatening a White House correspondent for Time magazine with up to 18 months in jail if he refuses to testify before a grand jury investigating the disclosure of an intelligence officer’s identity.
For a second time, the judge, Thomas Hogan, ordered Cooper, to disclose sources for an article in which he wrote that “some government officials” had identified Valerie Plame as an official of the Central Intelligence Agency. Also for a second time, Cooper refused, citing a journalist’s promise to protect his sources.
Hogan then found Cooper in contempt of court. Two months ago, Hogan made the same ruling, but he lifted that order after one of the sources, Lewis Libby, chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, waived his confidentiality agreement with Cooper to allow discussion of their conversations before the grand jury.
Patrick Fitzgerald, the special prosecutor investigating leaks of Plame’s identity, called Cooper before the grand jury again, seeking the names of other sources. As before, Cooper refused.
Hogan ordered Cooper to jail and fined Time $1,000 a day until it provided documents relating to Cooper’s interviews. The judge agreed to delay all sanctions pending appeal.
In some circumstances, it is a federal crime for a government official to disclose the name of a CIA operative, and Hogan readily acknowledged that the issues before him represented “a classic confrontation of First Amendment rights and the demands of the criminal justice system.”
But in issuing the contempt citation, he said the government had exhausted all other means to obtain the information. He effectively agreed with arguments by Jim Fleissner, a federal prosecutor from Chicago, who said a Supreme Court case from 1972, Branzburg v. Hayes, set precedent in such cases, requiring reporters to answer questions from grand juries about their sources.