The Justice Department has ruled out forcing New York Times reporter James Risen to divulge his source in the upcoming trial of a former CIA officer accused of leaking classified information, a person familiar with the matter said on Friday night.
The decision comes ahead of a court hearing set for next week at which Justice Department prosecutors had been directed to reveal whether they plan to seek Risen’s testimony.
The person briefed on the matter, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the decision had not yet been formally announced, said the Justice Department may still subpoena Risen to testify on other topics but would not compel him to divulge the identify of his source.
Norman Solomon, co-founder of RootsAction.org, coordinated a petition campaign in support of Risen’s rights.
Addressed to Attorney General Eric Holder and President Obama, the petition “We Support James Risen Because We Support a Free Press” — which gained more than 100,000 signers this year — told Holder and Obama: “We urge you in the strongest terms to halt all legal action against Mr. Risen and to safeguard the freedom of journalists to maintain the confidentiality of their sources.”
“This is a big victory for defying illegitimate authority. The Bush and Obama administrations have tried to coerce and intimidate James Risen with a series of subpoenas beginning in early 2008,” Solomon said of the recent court decision. “Nearly seven years later, a crucial lesson from his refusal to back down is that journalists — and the rest of us — must not give an inch to government officials who are trying to undermine the First, Fourth and Fifth Amendments.”
He added: “Freedom of the press, confidential communications and due process remain under fierce attack. The only solution is to fight back.”
Solomon is executive director of the Institute for Public Accuracy.