The United States government has confirmed that it will seek limited testimony from New York Times reporter James Risen, according to court documents filed Tuesday, in regards to his relationship with the alleged CIA leaker Jeffery Sterling.
Ahead of the official filing, press freedom advocates had welcomed the news that the Department of Justice would not press the journalist to expose the anonymous source or sources for his 2006 book, State of War.
According to the Justice Department filing (pdf), Holder has authorized prosecutors to seek Risen's testimony in regards to the facts that Risen has a confidentiality agreement with his source or sources for his book, as well as for two earlier New York Times articles, and that Risen had a previous "non-confidential reporter-source relationship" with Jeffrey Sterling. Sterling is accused of leaking information related to a botched CIA mission to sabotage Iran’s alleged nuclear weapons program, which Risen writes about in his book.
Risen's attorney, Joel Kurtzberg, told the Alexandria, Virginia court on Tuesday that although Risen had expressed willingness to confirm some of that information previously, he was unsure if his client would comply in this case. The federal government's pursuit of Risen has become a battle over the First Amendment rights of journalists and, according to advocates, threatens the ability of reporters to promise confidentiality to sources.
Reporting on the hearing, Politico reporter Josh Gerstein, who has followed the Risen case closely, wrote that Kurtzberg "made clear that whatever questions Risen ultimately answers would ultimately be under compulsion of a subpoena."
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"He's certainly not volunteering to be here," Kurtzberg told the court.
Further, according the Washington Post: "Edward B. MacMahon Jr., Sterling’s attorney, said he was just reviewing the prosecutors’ filing, but he noted that their investigation into Risen was extensive and said the idea of limited questioning of the reporter was 'hard for us to fathom at this point in time.' He said prosecutors had obtained Risen’s FedEx records, credit card receipts and even some type of Western Union transaction to at least one of his children."
It was also noted during the hearing that the DOJ filing did not specify whether defense lawyers would be limited in their questioning of Risen.
Investigative journalist Marcy Wheeler speculates that the government may be hoping that Sterling's defense team will demand Risen's complete testimony in an effort to keep Sterling out of prison.
Kurtzberg did confirm that Risen would attend a January 5th hearing, which the court called a "moot of Mr. Risen's testimony," during which the court can determine "exactly what questions Mr. Risen will answer [...] without burdening the jury's time."