By: Joe Strupp
Will today’s conviction of former White House Aide I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby on multiple federal counts, thanks in part to the testimony of numerous reporters, spark an increase in efforts to force reporter testimony in the future? Those involved in the case and the related journalistic battles offer mixed reactions.
Walter Pincus, a Washington Post reporter who testified that Libby was one of his sources for the Plame information after Libby released him from confidentiality, said the case had not affected his dealings with sources. “My relationship with sources hasn’t changed a bit,” he said.
But when asked how the conviction might impact future reporter subpoenas, he said “we have to wait and see.”
George Freeman, assistant general counsel for The New York Times, which saw former reporter Judith Miller and current reporter David Sanger testify, did not believe the verdict would have such a negative impact on future reporter subpoenas. “I don’t think the conviction really affects the lay of the land,” he told E&P this afternoon.
But Lucy Dalglish, executive director of Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, said the prosecution’s success in convicting Libby likely means more reporter subpoenas in the future. “For me, it means more litigation and prosecutors are going to think it is good to use journalists as witnesses,” she said. “That is going to result in even more subpoenas. That is not a good thing. I’m concerned about this.”
Bob Steele, a senior ethics instructor at The Poynter Institute, echoed Dalglish’s thoughts. “It could be that the verdict in this case emboldens the prosecutors,” he said. “They could hold other journalists’ feet to the fire and force them to testify. There is significant concern about what this could mean to journalists.”
But he also stressed that it is still just one case. “One unusual case and we shouldn’t be setting off the biggest alarm bells,” he added. “The nature of this case was odd.”
In fact, prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald, after today’s verdict, cautioned that it was a “unique” case and confirmed that reporters should be forced to testify as a “last resort.” However, he drew a distinction between reporters who get “whistleblowing” type tip with those who receive classified or other essentially criminal information.
Libby, a former aide to Vice President Dick Cheney, was convicted on four of five counts related to his part in the investigation of who leaked the identity of CIA Agent Valeria Plame to reporters in 2003. Although no one was charged in connection with the leak, Libby was found guilty of obstruction of justice, perjury and making false statements to the FBI stemming from his part in the leak investigation. He faces a possible 30 years in prison.
The overall impact of the case, which saw several reporters subpoenaed for information on their sources – and at least one jailed – has been felt already, Freeman said. “I think sources are a little more careful in dealing with reporters,” Freeman noted. “That is a pity, that it would slow that access to sources.”