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Reporter faces jail over silence in CIA leak probe

Time correspondent refuses court order to testify

From Kevin Bohn and Terry Frieden
CNN Washington Bureau

Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)
Matthew Cooper
Robert Novak
Tim Russert

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A Time magazine reporter chose to fight a court order requiring him to testify in the Justice Department's probe into the leak of a CIA operative's name, while an NBC executive chose to cooperate, according to court documents and parties involved in the case.

The July 20 ruling by U.S. District Judge Thomas Hogan was unsealed Monday.

He ruled that Time reporter Matthew Cooper and NBC Washington Bureau chief Tim Russert must comply with the subpoenas requested by U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald in his probe of the leak to the media of the CIA role of Valerie Plame, wife of former U.S. diplomat Joseph Wilson.

Revealing the name of a CIA operative is a felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a $50,000 fine.

The politically sensitive leak created waves when Wilson blamed Bush administration political operatives for leaking the information to syndicated newspaper columnist Robert Novak, who disclosed it.

Cooper and Russert went to court to block their subpoenas to testify before a grand jury, citing their reporter's privilege to confidentiality. Hogan rejected that argument.

"This court holds that the U.S. Supreme Court unequivocally rejected any reporter's privilege rooted in the First Amendment or common law in the context of a grand jury acting in good faith," Hogan declared.

NBC disclosed late Monday that during the time the ruling was sealed, Russert -- facing potential jail time and fines -- negotiated an agreement with the prosecutor and submitted to questioning Saturday.

NBC said Russert offered to be interviewed by Fitzgerald if it would be done under oath but not before a grand jury, and if he would not be asked questions that would have required him to disclose information provided in confidence.

NBC said the interview was conducted under those conditions Saturday. Russert has maintained he was not the recipient of a leak concerning Plame's identity.

Cooper, however, refused to cooperate, and in an order made public Monday along with the court ruling, Hogan found Cooper in contempt of court.

Hogan said Cooper would be sent to jail for up to 18 months if he does not agree to comply. Time Inc. would be fined $1,000 a day until Cooper complies. However, Hogan agreed to stay the penalties pending an appeal, which Time announced it will file.

Wilson, a longtime career Foreign Service officer with expertise in African affairs, believes his wife's name was leaked by Bush administration officials in retaliation for his criticism of the administration.

He recounted what he thinks happened in his book "The Politics of Truth: Inside the Lies that Led to War and Betrayed My Wife's CIA Identity: A Diplomat's Memoir," published in April.

Wilson visited Niger in early 2002 on behalf of the CIA to investigate reports alleging that Iraq had tried to buy significant quantities of yellowcake uranium ore there and in other African countries. He said he found the reports groundless.

Almost a year after Wilson delivered his findings to the CIA, President Bush cited the African uranium connection in his 2003 State of the Union address as evidence Iraq was trying to restart its nuclear weapons program.

Novak revealed Plame's identity as a CIA operative in an article published July 14, 2003, saying the CIA sent Wilson to Niger at his wife's suggestion. Novak, who also is a CNN contributor, attributed the information to two senior administration officials.

The uproar over the leak led Attorney General John Ashcroft to appoint Fitzgerald as a special counsel to investigate the leak's origin.

NBC said that during the interview Saturday, Fitzgerald asked Russert limited questions about a telephone conversation initiated by Lewis "Scooter" Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, in early July of last year.

At the time of that conversation, Russert told the special prosecutor, he did not know Plame's name or that she was a CIA operative and "he did not provide that information to Mr. Libby," the NBC statement said.

Time and CNN are related companies, both part of Time Warner Co.

Time Managing Editor Jim Kelly told CNN "we're disappointed" with the ruling and said the publication plans to file its appeal as soon as Tuesday.

Hogan, in his ruling, emphasized his view that the government's investigation was being conducted "in good faith."

"The information requested from Mr. Cooper and Mr. Russert is very limited, all available alternative means of obtaining the information have been exhausted, the testimony sought is necessary for the completion of the investigation, and the testimony sought is expected to constitute direct innocence or guilt," Hogan wrote.

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