Was It Proper for ‘WP’ Reporter to Talk to Plame Prosecutor?

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By: Allan Wolper

Washington Post investigative reporter Walter Pincus insists his two-hour deposition in the Valerie Plame CIA-leak case was within ethical guidelines, even though it remains hidden from public view. “My source’s lawyer spoke to my lawyer,” Pincus told me. “The special prosecutor knew who my source was.”

Pincus asked E&P if he could respond to David Kidwell, a reporter for The Miami Herald, who criticized him for cooperating with Special Prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald’s crusade to out the Plame leaker and imprison some of the reporters to whom he leaked. “When reporters cut deals, when they rationalize themselves by testifying, they are acting as a government snitch,” Kidwell had told me for an April column. “What is a judge to think when [Tim] Russert and the others have said that principles are not that important?”

Pincus, Russert, Glenn Kessler of The Washington Post, and Matt Cooper of Time Magazine all testified in the case. Cooper was subpoenaed a second time and was found in contempt by a federal court judge along with Judith Miller of The New York Times, who has refused to provide any testimony. Meanwhile, Fitzgerald, a U.S. Attorney in Chicago, disclosed in court papers that his investigation into the leak had been virtually completed last October.

Pincus, Russert, Kessler, and Cooper all were accompanied by their lawyers when they testified and can discuss everything that they told the special prosecutor. Pincus, a 71-year-old reporter who is also an attorney, said he has provided reporters with copies of the statement he read to the prosecutor before his deposition, which said: “As someone who covers national security and intelligence I depend on confidential sources more than most reporters. My sources take a chance when they trust me with information that could cost them their jobs or have other serious consequences. In turn, I will protect them.”

He repeated that in an interview with the Columbia Journalism Review. But none of the reporters who testified have provided any details other than to say their sources gave them permission to testify.

What did Pincus tell Fitzgerald? “He never asked me the name of my source, because the prosecutor knew who my source was,” Pincus said. “The prosecutor asked me what time I received a telephone call from my source and did I talk to more than one source.”

Pincus said that Fitzgerald asked him about Lewis (Scooter) Libby, chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney. Libby, a source in the case to Russert, Kessler, and Cooper, signed a waiver giving them permission to testify.

“Libby was not my source but was someone I spoke to on a confidential basis,” Pincus said. “I had written about Wilson’s trip [to Africa] and spoke to everyone involved in it.” Wilson is Ambassador Joseph Wilson, husband of Valerie Plame.

Pincus added, “My case is different than the other reporters because I wrote about the conversation I had with my source [in The Washington Post]. And my source came forward to Fitzgerald. And when a source discloses himself to a prosecutor and then releases you from confidentiality with that prosecutor, I don’t think a reporter has a leg to stand on.”

Legally or ethically? “Both,” Pincus responded. “I have a law degree. The privilege doesn’t belong to the reporter. It belongs to the source. We’re citizens like everyone else.”

How did Pincus know whether the White House pressured his source to sign a waiver to give him the right to testify? “I don’t believe in waivers,” Pincus said. “But a source can do anything he wants to do. When a source comes forward, who are you protecting?”

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