Mark Berman, The Washington Post, June 2 2014
The Supreme Court declined to step in Monday on behalf of James Risen, a New York Times reporter and author who faces potential jail time for not identifying a source.
Risen is the author of the 2006 book “State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration.” A chapter of that book detailed a CIA plan to sabotage Iran’s nuclear program. Prosecutors believe that Jeffrey A. Sterling, a former Central Intelligence Agency operative charged with leaking classified information, gave Risen information that was used for this chapter.
In 2011, federal prosecutors subpoenaed Risen to try and force him to testify at Sterling’s trial. Prosecutors said that Risen could essentially help them admit statements from the book into the trial. Risen vowed to fight the subpoena at the time, calling the issue “a fight about the First Amendment and the freedom of the press.”
Judge Leonie M. Brinkema largely agreed to quash the subpoena, writing in July 2011 that a “criminal trial subpoena is not a free pass for the government to rifle through a reporter’s notebook.” That decision was reversed last year, when a three-judge panel for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in Richmond ruled in a 2-1 decision that the First Amendment didn’t protect a reporter from being forced to testify about “criminal conduct that the reporter personally witnessed or participated in.”
Risen’s attorneys wrote in the appeal filed to the Supreme Court that for journalists such as Risen, “their jobs would be impossible without the ability to promise confidentiality to sources.” (The Washington Post was among the news organizations filing briefs on Risen’s behalf.)