Lawyers for New York Times reporter James Risen asked a federal appeals court on Tuesday to uphold a lower court’s rulings that federal prosecutors should not be able to question him about most details of his confidential sources for a 2006 book that described a botched Central Intelligence Agency program to sabotage Iran’s nuclear program.
Prosecutors pursuing a criminal case against former CIA officer Jeffrey Sterling for allegedly leaking top-secret information about the program to Risen are appealing U.S. District Court Judge Leonie Brinkema’s rulings that sharply limited Risen’s testimony. But Risen’s lawyers said in a brief filed Tuesday that the appeals court should reject the government’s appeal.
Risen’s lawyers, Joel Kurtzberg and former U.S. Attorney David Kelley, argued to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit that the appeal was premature because while Brinkema seemed to rule out allowing Risen to be questioned directly about the identity of his sources, she said she hadn’t made a final decision on all aspects of his testimony and might still require that he answer questions about such points as where he was when he learned certain facts.
The brief for Risen (posted here) also makes a more direct plea to the appeals court to uphold the basic principle of reporter’s privilege, a legal protection many courts have recognized to keep journalists from being forced to testify in many civil and criminal cases.
A showdown in the federal appeals courts over the scope and application of reporter’s privilege is highly unusual and has drawn the attention of First Amendment and press advocates. Some involved in the case expect it to reach the Supreme Court.