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Reporter Gives Sworn Statement About CIA Leak

Time writer responds to prosecutor in inquiry into White House disclosures after source waives confidentiality.

August 25, 2004|James Gerstenzang | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — Avoiding a clash over the 1st Amendment and possibly jail time, a reporter for Time has given a deposition to a prosecutor investigating the disclosure of the identity of a CIA operative, the magazine said Tuesday.

The reporter, Matthew Cooper, had been ordered by a federal judge to respond to questions posed by Patrick J. Fitzgerald, the special counsel investigating whether the Bush administration illegally leaked the CIA agent's name.

Shortly after Fitzgerald interviewed Cooper on Monday, U.S. District Judge Thomas Hogan lifted the contempt citation he had issued against the journalist.

The magazine's managing editor, Jim Kelly, said Cooper agreed to the deposition because the official Fitzgerald was asking about -- Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby -- had waived any confidentiality agreement he had with the reporter.

The leak disclosed the identity of Valerie Plame, a CIA agent and the wife of a former State Department envoy. The envoy, Joseph C. Wilson IV, had been sent by the CIA to Niger to investigate whether Iraq had tried to buy uranium from the African country.

The investigation has raised the potential of a clash involving the prosecutor, the courts and several journalists over the extent to which the First Amendment protects reporters from demands that they reveal the identity of sources to whom they have promised confidentiality.

Plame's name was disclosed in a column by Robert Novak that was published July 14, 2003. Three days later, Cooper wrote: "And some government officials have noted to Time in interviews, [as well as to syndicated columnist Robert Novak] that Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, is a CIA official who monitors the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction."

Later in the story, he reported that Libby had spoken to Time "in an exclusive interview" about "the possibility of Iraq trying to acquire uranium from Niger."

Fitzgerald subpoenaed testimony from Cooper and Tim Russert, NBC News' Washington bureau chief, in May. Time and NBC fought the subpoenas, citing the First Amendment, but Hogan denied their bid to avoid testifying.

Russert was interviewed by the prosecutor Aug. 7 and was asked "limited questions" about a telephone conversation that Libby had initiated in early July 2003, NBC said.

The network said Libby had released Russert from a confidentiality agreement, and that Russert was "not a recipient of the leak."

A Washington Post reporter, Glenn Kessler, also agreed to be questioned by Fitzgerald after Libby waived their confidentiality agreement. A second Post reporter and two New York Times reporters are resisting subpoenas to testify.

Until Hogan vacated his citation, Cooper was held in contempt. He faced a jail term and the magazine faced a fine of $1,000 a day.

The pursuit of information from a journalist raised questions about how far the government would go in its investigation -- and whether the subject of the deposition would be able to restrict the testimony to one finely defined area of questioning.

"The thing that worries me about it is how do you stop going down that road?" said Bill Kovach, a former bureau chief for the New York Times and chairman of the Committee of Concerned Journalists. "I still think there is a lot of jeopardy here."

Cooper declined to discuss the case or his testimony.

Kelly, Cooper's editor, said he did not think the deposition opened doors to cooperation with the prosecutor on other fronts. Without disclosing the testimony, which was sealed, he said: "It is very clear the special counsel was interested in Matt's conversations with Mr. Libby."

Asked whether he had any qualms about a reporter cooperating with the investigation, Kelly said, "Once Lewis Libby waived his confidentiality and I knew the questions focused on Mr. Libby, no. The whole point was to protect the source. Once the source agreed to let Matt speak, I didn't have any qualms. The principle of protecting a source still stands."

Cooper's lawyer, Floyd Abrams, said the session, which took place at his Washington office, did not delve into anyone other than Libby.

"There was nothing said which pointed fingers at other people," Abrams said. He added: "That does not mean what was said pointed fingers at Mr. Libby."

Wilson speculated in a recent memoir that Libby was "quite possibly the person who exposed my wife's identity."

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