Obama Admin Still Seeking Testimony From Journalist James Risen

December 17, 2014

Despite earlier reports, New York Times Journalist is still facing a subpoena in the trial of former CIA officer Jeffrey Sterling

Despite earlier reports, New York Times Journalist is still facing a subpoena in the trial of former CIA officer Jeffrey Sterling



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Story Transcript

JESSICA DESVARIEUX, TRNN PRODUCER: You may remember James Risen. He is the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist that broke the story of a botched CIA operation called Merlin. It was an attempt to sabotage Iran by giving them false nuclear weapon blueprints.

For almost 7 years now, Risen has been under pressure from both the Bush and Obama administrations to reveal his sources, something he says he’ll never do.

JAMES RISEN, JOURNALIST: There’s nothing more fundamental to our democracy than freedom of the press. We can’t have a democracy without it. And you can’t have freedom of the press without aggressive investigative reporting, and you can’t have aggressive investigative reporting without the ability to have confidential sources.

DESVARIEUX: Over the weekend, the headlines claimed a victory for Risen, saying that Risen won’t be forced to reveal his source. But soon after, a Tuesday hearing clarified that the Department of Justice would be seeking a subpoena against Risen to testify in the case of Jeffrey Sterling. Sterling is a former CIA officer charged with violating the Espionage Act, and the government alleges that Sterling is Risen’s source on the Merlin story.

MARCY WHEELER, INVESTIGATIVE JOURNALIST: The DOJ has agreed to limit its questions to three areas. They will not require him to name his source. But that opens Risen up to questions from Sterling’s lawyers, from the defense attorneys. They have things like his FedEx receipts, his travel records, his call records. And Sterling’s lawyers have a good deal of that. And so they may ask him about that to try and get to some other potential sources for the Merlin story for which Sterling is charged.

DESVARIEUX: Sterling has been charged with ten felony counts, which includes seven under the Espionage Act. He’s one of seven leakers and whistleblowers that the Obama administration has charged under this law. President Obama has used the Espionage Act more than all previous presidents combined.

But if Risen agrees to testify in this case, what does it mean for his alleged source, Jeffrey Sterling? Also, could Risen end up implicating other sources if he takes the stand?

NORMAN SOLOMON, COFOUNDER, ROOTSACTION.ORG: Well, conceivably Risen could be forced onto the witness stand and could be asked certain basic questions about the veracity of his book and the existence of confidential sources, and then legally, as calculated by the Justice Department, that could open a door to cross examination, where, the door having been opened, the Sterling counsel believes that it can repair any damage or help the Sterling case by pressing Risen to clarify about his sourcing. And then Risen is in a position of a kind of a slippery slope. And one thing can lead to another, and it could get very messy very quickly.

DESVARIEUX: As a part of a RootsAction.org campaign, cofounder Norman Solomon has collected more than 100,000 signatures to support Risen and press freedom.

Now a new petition has been launched calling for Sterling’s release.

SOLOMON: The overall political context is that the Obama administration is, number one, trying to make an example out of Sterling as a whistleblower. We know he went to the Senate Intelligence Committee–everybody acknowledges that–with information about this really stupid and dangerous CIA operation called Operation Merlin. And, number two, the Justice Department and the Obama administration, like the Bush administration, is very hostile to James Risen, want to try to make an example of him and show that if you really are tough and make problems for the warfare surveillance state, that that state will find ways to harm your career and maybe put you in jail if you’re a journalist.

DESVARIEUX: As a journalist, Risen maintains that he won’t divulge his source, but it has yet to be determined what he will do ahead of the January 5 hearing that will decide how Risen will be asked to testify.

WHEELER: They did say you’re going to have to subpoena him, and they did say, yes, in the past we agreed to a limited testimony; it’s not clear we’ll agree now. They may be seeing the same thing I am, which is that Sterling has four potential sources to look to.

So I think we’re still waiting to hear from Risen’s people on whether he’s just going to refuse to testify, and then see what happens.

DESVARIEUX: For The Real News Network, Jessica Desvarieux, Washington.

End

DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.