A U.S. Court of Appeals has ruled two reporters could be jailed for refusing to divulge sources which led to the leak of an undercover CIA officer’s name.
A three-judge panel of the appeals court in Washington, D.C. agreed with prosecutors who argued Time magazine’s Matthew Cooper and The New York Times’ Judith Miller should be made to testify before a federal grand jury about their sources.
“We agree with the District Court that there is no First Amendment privilege protecting the information sought,” Judge David B. Sentelle said in the unanimous ruling.
Floyd Abrams, the lawyer for both reporters, said he would appeal the decision to the full appeals court panel. In a statement, he said, “Today’s decision strikes a heavy blow against the public’s right to be informed about its government.”
Last October, U.S. District Judge Thomas F. Hogan, in tossing aside their argument the First Amendment protected them from having to reveal sources, held both in contempt. If they continue to refuse to divulge the sources, both could face up to 18 months in jail.
Federal prosecutors are investigating whether a crime was committed when the name of CIA operative Valerie Plame, husband of former U.S. Ambassador Joseph Wilson, was published in a column by Robert Novak.
Novak cited two senior Bush administration officials as his sources.
His column was published after Wilson wrote an op-ed piece criticising the Bush administration’s claim that Iraq had sought uranium in Niger. Wilson was asked by the CIA to investigate those claims.
Disclosure of a federal undercover officer’s name can be a crime if prosecutors can demonstrate the leak was purposeful and the person knew of the agent’s secret status.