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New York Times reporter held in contempt

From Terry Frieden
CNN Washington Bureau

Judith Miller and her attorney Floyd Abrams, outside federal court in Washington.
Judith Miller
Floyd Abrams
New York

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A federal judge Thursday declared New York Times reporter Judith Miller in civil contempt for her refusal to testify before a grand jury, but agreed not to jail her pending an appeal.

Miller had been subpoenaed to testify as part of the Justice Department investigation into who leaked CIA operative Valerie Plame's name to syndicated columnist and CNN contributor Robert Novak last year.

With renowned First Amendment attorney Floyd Abrams at her side, Miller said she refused to divulge any off-the-record information and confidential discussions with her sources in order to protect their identity.

U.S. District Judge Thomas Hogan said he understood her position, but rejected her argument.

"We have a classic confrontation between the freedom of the press and the right of the government to investigate criminal activity before a grand jury," Hogan said.

He said he had read a detailed summary of the status of the prosecutor's investigation, and is satisfied the government "is not on a fishing expedition."

The judge said both the government and Miller had acted in good faith, and were appropriately doing their respective jobs, but the law is on the government's side.

He then declared Miller in contempt, ordered her confined in a suitable place for a period not to exceed 18 months. She was released on a personal recognizance bond, pending an appeal.

Afterward Miller described the ruling as "really frightening."

"I'm disappointed that I am being held in contempt of court for an article I never wrote," she said. Miller stressed she was only gathering information from sources for a possible story.

The government declined to comment.

Both sides agreed to seek an expedited appeal and complete filing their cases by November 10.

Hogan agreed with Assistant U.S. Attorney James Fleischner that a fine would not be sufficient to compel Miller's testimony. No fine was imposed along with the planned incarceration.

Fleischner was representing the government in the absence of Special Counsel Patrick Fitzgerald who was appointed by the Justice Department to get to the bottom of the leak.

Fitzgerald has subpoenaed several reporters as part of his probe.

Time Magazine and one of its reporters, Matthew Cooper, also were held in contempt, but Cooper then reached an agreement under which he gave an interview to Fitzgerald leading to the citation being dropped.

Last month Cooper was subpoenaed again and was asked for additional information. Hogan has refused to quash that subpoena, and a new contempt hearing for Cooper is scheduled for next week.

Abrams noted the government's continued interest in forcing Cooper to testify, and said it was proof Miller should not agree to testify under a government promise of limited questioning.

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