Time magazine has decided to comply with a federal court order to hand over notes from one of its reporters that could shed light on who leaked the identity of a covert CIA agent to the press two years ago. Two reporters face imprisonment in connection with the investigation.
Time magazine says its decision to hand over notes from reporter Matthew Cooper should make his jailing unnecessary.
Mr. Cooper and investigative reporter Judith Miller of the New York Times could be sent to jail as soon as next week unless they comply with a federal court demand to disclose their sources in connection with the case of Valerie Plame.
Ms. Plame was revealed as a CIA operative by columnist Robert Novak in June of 2003, citing unidentified Bush administration sources. Leaking the name of a CIA agent is a federal offense and federal prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald is leading a probe of who leaked Ms. Plame's CIA identity to the press.
Robert Novak will not comment on whether he is cooperating with prosecutors. Prosecutor Fitzgerald says he needs to find out who reporters Cooper and Miller talked to about the Plame case before he can close his investigation.
Both reporters insist they are willing to serve jail time to uphold the principle of journalists protecting anonymous sources. Matthew Cooper spoke to reporters Wednesday outside the federal courthouse in Washington.
"On balance, I think I would prefer that they [Time
] not turn over the documents," Mr. Cooper said. "But Time
can make that decision for itself and I think it is an honorable one whatever they decide."
On Monday, the Supreme Court refused to hear the reporter's appeal and the federal judge presiding over the case has scheduled a hearing for next Wednesday at which time he could decide to send them to jail.
The New York Times issued a statement expressing disappointment that Time magazine has decided to hand over notes in the case.
New York Times reporter Judith Miller told CBS News recently that jailing journalists who refuse to reveal their sources would have a chilling effect on newsgathering.
"This is about the public's right to know," she said. "Journalists bring people the news, the news the government does not want them to know. And if we cannot protect our sources, we cannot bring them that news."
The court's decision to find the two reporters in contempt has outraged media organizations and advocates of a free press around the country.
But prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald says there is no provision in the law that gives journalists special rights to withhold information related to a criminal act.
Jim Naureckas is with a media watchdog group called Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting. He told MSNBC television that the prosecution has the right to compel the reporters to cooperate in the investigation.
"The conversation that the source had with the reporter was the crime here, allegedly," he said. "And therefore, if you say that the reporters do not have an obligation to talk about this, you are basically saying that this crime is off the books [the law will not be enforced]."
Valerie Plame is married to former U.S. Ambassador Joseph Wilson. He questioned a key contention in President Bush's 2003 State of the Union Address that alleged Iraq had sought to buy uranium from a country in Africa.
Prosecutor Fitzgerald is trying to find out if Valerie Plame's identity was leaked by someone in the administration as a way of retaliating against Ambassador Wilson.