RICHMOND, Va. – A journalist who disclosed details of a secret CIA operation cannot shield his source when he testifies at the trial of a former federal agent charged with leaking classified information, a divided U.S. appeals court ruled Friday.
The 2-1 ruling by a 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel reversed a judge’s decision limiting the scope of reporter James Risen’s testimony at former CIA officer Jeffrey Sterling’s trial. The judge had said Risen could be questioned about the accuracy of his journalism but could not be forced to divulge any confidential sources.
That might be OK in a civil trial, the appeals court said, but not in a criminal case.
Risen “can provide the only first-hand account of the commission of a most serious crime indicted by the grand jury – the illegal disclosure of classified, national security information by one who was entrusted by our government to protect national security, but who is charged with having endangered it instead,” Judge William B. Traxler Jr. wrote in the majority opinion, which Judge Albert Diaz joined.
Traxler wrote that the only constitutional privilege Risen was entitled to invoke was the Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination, but that he has already been granted immunity for prosecution “for his potential exposure to criminal liability.”
In a dissenting opinion, Judge Roger L. Gregory wrote that a reporter’s ability to protect sources is key to the sort of free press envisioned by the Founding Fathers.