Federal prosecutors issued a subpoena for a New York Times reporter to testify about classified documents he allegedly received from a former CIA operative who is charged with illegally leaking the information.
In a court filing late Monday, prosecutors in the Eastern District of Virginia said they expect the reporter, James Risen, will try to quash the subpoena. Risen has not cooperated in the case against ex-CIA employee Jeffrey Sterling, a resident of O'Fallon, Mo.
A judge previously quashed a subpoena issued to Risen earlier in the case. But prosecutors say Risen's testimony would be relevant to a jury, and that reporters enjoy no special privilege under federal law to avoid testifying.
"Mr. Risen is an eyewitness to those crimes. Mr. Risen's testimony, like that of any other citizen in his situation, should therefore be admitted to permit the jury to carry out its truth-seeking function," prosecutors from the Department of Justice and the Eastern District of Virginia wrote in a court filing seeking to compel Risen's testimony at trial.
Prosecutors allege Sterling was a source for Risen in a book about CIA operations in Iran.
A spokesman for U.S. Attorney Neil MacBride in the Eastern District of Virginia referred calls to the Justice Department, where DOJ procedures require the attorney general himself to sign off on subpoenaing a journalist.
Justice Department spokeswoman Laura Sweeney said in a statement that the department makes "every reasonable effort to attempt to obtain information from alternatives sources before even considering a subpoena to a member of the press, and only seeks information essential to directly establishing innocence or guilt."
Sterling's lawyer, Edward MacMahon, did not immediately return a call Tuesday seeking comment.
Risen's lawyer, Joel Kurtzberg, confirmed that Risen received the subpoena Monday night and again will ask the judge to quash the subpoena. He declined further comment.
A New York Times spokeswoman also did not immediately return a call seeking comment.
Sterling, who is black, has a long, contentious history with the CIA. He filed a racial discrimination complaint with the agency's Equal Opportunity office in 2000 and followed that up with several federal lawsuits.
The government's motion is actually the first time in the case that Risen was mentioned by name. The indictment referred to him only as "Author A." The judge in the case, Leonie Brinkema, has prodded the government to lift much of the shroud of secrecy in the case so it can be efficiently prosecuted in open court.