The new chairman of the House Judiciary Committee has asked the Department of Justice to stop trying to compel two reporters to reveal who leaked BALCO grand jury testimony.
A federal judge already has ordered San Francisco Chronicle reporters Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams jailed until they comply with government subpoenas demanding detailed information about how they received the testimony of Barry Bonds, Jason Giambi and others. The reporters have remained free while the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals considers the case.
“The issuance of these subpoenas appears to run directly counter to the protections afforded to the press under the First Amendment,” Rep. John D. Conyers, D-Mich. said in a speech at the National Press Club in Washington.
Conyers sent a letter to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales asking him to withdraw the subpoenas. Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va., also signed the letter.
“Like most Americans, we have watched with great concern as the Department of Justice issued grand jury subpoenas to the reporters and their newspaper to learn the identities of their confidential sources on some of the most significant reporting in the history of professional sports,” Conyers and Davis wrote. “We write to you now to express my deep concern over the issuance of these subpoenas and to urge you to withdraw them.”
Davis, as chair of the House Government Reform Committee, held a March 2005 steroids hearing, where witnesses included former baseball players Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro and Jose Canseco.
A DOJ spokesman didn’t return a telephone call.
In court filings, prosecutors asked the San Francisco-based appeals court to uphold a judge’s contempt order against Fainaru-Wada and Williams, arguing that reporters do not have special privileges that allow them to keep evidence from a grand jury.
The appeals court is expected to hear the reporters’ appeal in March, though an exact date hasn’t been set.