- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 19, 2005


Skeptical senators, concerned over the jailing of New York Times reporter Judith Miller, questioned a Justice Department representative who testified that government procedures for getting information from reporters had worked well for 33 years and didn’t need to be altered.

“Here you have a reporter in jail for 85 days, and millions of Americans wonder why? I’m one of those,” Sen. Arlen Specter said yesterday as the Judiciary Committee he heads called Mrs. Miller and others to testify on a proposed bill that would allow reporters to keep the identity of their sources secret.

The jailing of Mrs. Miller for refusing to discuss her sources with federal prosecutors investigating the disclosure of undercover CIA agent Valerie Plame’s identity “has had an obvious chilling effect on other reporters” around the country, said Mr. Specter, Pennsylvania Republican.

Representing the Justice Department, Chuck Rosenberg, a U.S. attorney in Texas, declined to discuss specifics of Mrs. Miller’s case, but said, “We should not enter this debate believing that the First Amendment is under assault by the Department of Justice. Manifestly, it is not.”

Mr. Rosenberg said that since 1991, only 12 of 243 subpoenas issued under Justice Department guidelines to the press called for information on confidential sources.

“We seek information about confidential sources from reporters only when it really, really matters,” Mr. Rosenberg said.

On her way into the hearing, Mrs. Miller said the nation needs a federal shield law. “That’s why I’m here. I went through a lot to be able to make this statement.”

Mrs. Miller told Mr. Specter that after her jailing, the Cleveland Plain Dealer decided against going forward with two stories to avoid a similar predicament.

“I believe we need a statute,” Mr. Specter said, because that would give judges responsibility for balancing the need for confidentiality against the demands of national security in such cases.

Former U.S. attorney Joseph DiGenova suggested the committee enact the existing Justice guidelines into law, so reporters could get courts to enforce them because “notwithstanding what they’re saying today, [Justice officials] don’t always do that.”

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat, asked Mr. Rosenberg if the department would support that, but Mr. Rosenberg said even that would be a bad idea because court appeals could delay action at times “when we need to move fast.”

In her testimony, Mrs. Miller acknowledged her own stories suggesting Iraq had weapons of mass destruction were flawed by sources with wrong information. But she argued that “even flawed reporters should not be jailed for protecting even flawed sources.”

Many sources with accurate information needed by the public will provide it only to reporters who promise confidentiality even before the reporter can assess the information, she said.

Mr. Rosenberg said in testimony submitted for the record that the bill as drafted would seriously impede the government’s ability to “enforce the law, fight terrorism and protect the national security.”

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