Obama Urges Court to Reject Reporter’s First Amendment Protection in Criminal Case

Thursday, August 29, 2013
James Risen (AP Photo)

Having already won a key legal victory in the case last month, the Obama administration has urged federal judges to forego giving a journalist one last chance to avoid disclosing his confidential source, or risk going to jail.


The case involves New York Times reporter James Risen, who became a target of the Department of Justice for revealing classified information in his 2006 book, State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration, which exposed details of the Central Intelligence Agency’s (CIA) attempts to disrupt Iran’s nuclear program.


James Sterling, a former CIA employee, has been accused by the government of being Risen’s source, and is being prosecuted under the Espionage Act for the criminal disclosure of the information.


The Obama administration won an important ruling against Risen in July before a three-judge panel of judges serving on the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals that said reporters can be ordered to testify about their confidential sources in criminal cases, or be jailed for refusing.


Risen’s defense team appealed to the court asking for it to convene a full session of the 15 judges serving in the Fourth Circuit to decide whether the journalist should be granted First Amendment protection that would spare him from having to reveal the identity of his source.


In response to Risen’s appeal, the Justice Department filed a legal argument (pdf) with the court that strongly opposes any further consideration of the case.


Prosecutor Neil Macbride has argued that there is no such thing as a reporters’ privilege in a criminal trial, and therefore, Risen should be denied a full hearing of the appeals court.


As for Sterling, he faces 10 felony counts, including obstruction of justice and espionage. He is the seventh individual within a four-year span to face prosecution under the Obama administration for leaking government secrets. Others include Army Private Bradley Manning and National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden.


Prior to Obama, only three such cases were prosecuted under all previous presidents combined.

-Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

Obama Administration Asks Court to Force NYT Reporter to Reveal Source (by Ed Pilkington, The Guardian)

United States of America v. Jeffrey Alexander Sterling and James Risen (U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit) (pdf)

Federal Judges Vote 2-1 to Order Journalist to Testify in CIA Whistleblower Case (by Matt Bewig, AllGov)

Justice Dept. Tries to Replace Condoleezza Rice Testimony with Her “Talking Points” (by Noel Brinkerhoff and David Wallechinsky, AllGov) 

Ex-CIA Officer Arrested in Continuing Obama Attack on Alleged Leakers (by Noel Brinkerhoff and David Wallechinsky, AllGov)


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