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Miller: Went to jail for 'the public's right to know'

Judith Miller


Judith Miller
Crime, Law and Justice
Newspaper and Magazines

(CNN) -- "New York Times" reporter Judith Miller, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, spent 85 days in jail protecting her confidential source in the White House CIA leak case. She was also fighting for the right to provide narrow testimony before a federal grand jury investigating that leak.

Less than a week after her release from jail and her appearance in federal court, she joined CNN's Lou Dobbs.

DOBBS: First, the idea of 85 days in jail is something that most of us cannot comprehend. Give us a sense of what you had to endure?

MILLER: Well, it was the most soulless place I've ever been. I think we don't realize how much we take things for granted like color, silence, the right to take two aspirin when you feel you have a headache. It was demeaning. It was degrading. It was very lonely.

But it has to be put in perspective. It's not a deadly illness. I knew I was going to get through it one day -- I didn't know how long it was going to last -- and I learned a lot from it. So all experiences of life teach you something.

DOBBS: This investigation, with Patrick Fitzgerald, the special prosecutor, moving before Judge Hogan to put you in jail, Matt Cooper, "Time" magazine and Time, Inc. relented and said we're going to testify and turn over the notes, principally e-mail. How did that make you feel in your situation?

MILLER: I guess each news organization had to make its own decision. I was just very proud that I was working at "The New York Times," and we had been consistent about the issue of not turning over notes for, you know, ordinarily to grand jury investigations. We had never done it, and we didn't do it in this case.

DOBBS: There are those liberals who've commented here, obviously in public, and I'm sure to you, saying, you know, she is protecting a conservative White House and really is not protecting sources, or upholding the public's right to know by doing so. She's really providing benefits to the conservative -- this from the liberals -- the conservative enemy. How does that make you feel? How do you respond?

MILLER: Well, they wrote lots of postcards, saying I should testify, and why wasn't I testifying? Why was I covering for these people? You know, Lou, I knew and I know they weren't covering for anybody. I was protecting the confidentiality of the source to whom I had given my word. I was keeping my word. And until I knew that that source genuinely wanted me to testify, and I heard that from him, I was willing to sit in jail. I didn't want to be in jail, but I knew that the principle of confidentiality was so important that I had to, because if people can't trust us to come to us to tell us the things that government and powerful corporations don't want us to know, we're dead in the water. The public won't know. That's why I was sitting in jail. For the public's right to know.

DOBBS: And all of us in this craft respect you immensely and are deeply grateful to you for so doing. It's an immense sacrifice. The idea that you would not accept a blanket waiver from Scooter Libby.

MILLER: Right, I would not.

DOBBS: The fact that you were able to constrain, your attorneys and you were able to constrain your testimony before the grand jury narrowly. Was that worth it?

MILLER: It was definitely worth it. I had to have both of those elements before I could, in good conscience, testify.

You know, I didn't want to participate in a fishing expedition. And we had asked the special counsel over a year ago, would he narrow his investigation to the source of his interest and the subject of interest? And he wouldn't do it then. When he agreed to do it, when I asked in August, that was it. I knew I'd be able to -- sorry, in September, I knew I'd be able to get out of jail. Time is a little mushy for me right now.

DOBBS: I can imagine each of those days seeming all together.

MILLER: An eternity.

DOBBS: But having been given the opportunity, Libby providing the personal, direct waiver of conversation.

MILLER: Yes, he did.

DOBBS: What took so long between that and your exit from prison?

MILLER: Oh, there was almost no time between the time that I got both of those elements and the time I left jail. The difficulty was getting both of them, and getting both of them in a way that the special prosecutor, the special counsel was not able to pressure my source. I didn't want Mr. Fitzgerald to pressure my source to give me the waiver, because then it wouldn't be a voluntary waiver.

DOBBS: It appears now that Fitzgerald was actually pressuring Libby and his attorney to declare themselves at the end.

MILLER: I think he was actually telling them. He told all lawyers, and by the way, you're going to have to ask the lawyers, because I never heard any of this directly. But I believe he was telling my lawyers that if we reached out to Mr. Libby to see how he felt now, he wouldn't construe that as collusion or obstruction of justice. And we were very worried about that, because, you know, would this reaching out be misinterpreted?

DOBBS: I am dismayed that this investigation has taken this long without result. And the only person who's paid a penalty to this point is you.

MILLER: Well, let's wait and see what Mr. Fitzgerald has. If he brings indictments, if he has a very serious case, then I might have to say that perhaps his zealousness with respect to this mission was justified. I don't know what Mr. Fitzgerald has. I'm waiting to see like everybody else what he produces. But if he doesn't have anything, I will wonder about why I had to spend 85 days in jail, and why I may be the only one to spend time in jail.

But we don't know yet, Lou. It's interesting to me, nobody has been able to crack the case yet. Nobody knows what he's working on.

DOBBS: What you describe as zealousness, if it turns out to be, I would prefer on the part of a prosecutor, effectiveness every time, in particular in a case of this nature. I prefer that, as the Bush White House refers to them, I prefer evil doers be punished. And hopefully that we'll see the free press in this country certainly supported and enhanced by your sacrifice. We, again, respect you very much.

MILLER: Thank you very much. And I hope we have a federal shield law that would protect all of us, so that no other journalist has to make the choice that I did.

DOBBS: And again, not for the benefit of the journalists, but the benefit of the public.

MILLER: No, it's not about us, it's about the public's right to know.

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