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Time magazine to hand over reporter's notes

Grand jury investigating leak of undercover CIA officer's name

Norman Pearlstine
Norman Pearlstine, editor-in-chief of Time Inc., says the magazine must comply with the court order to turn over the notes.


Supreme Court
Robert Novak

NEW YORK (CNN) -- Time Inc. announced Thursday it will turn over subpoenaed records from journalist Matt Cooper regarding the leak of a CIA operative's name, following a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court not to hear its appeal in the case.

"I believe that there's no argument for saying 'no' once the Supreme Court has ruled on a decision," Norman Pearlstine, editor-in-chief of Time Inc., said on CNN's "American Morning."

"I think we are a country of laws and not of individuals and that as journalists who regularly point a finger at people who think they're above the law, I'm not comfortable being one of them myself," he added.

Cooper, Time's White House correspondent, and Judith Miller, of The New York Times, were facing up to four months in jail for refusing to reveal their confidential sources in the matter to a grand jury.

Pearlstine said he regrets the high court's decision.

"I think it's a terrible case. I wish the court had taken our appeal, but given that they did not, we're not above the law and the law was clear that I think we had no choice but to turn over the information," he explained.

Time Inc. is a unit of Time Warner, which is also the parent company of CNN.

Cooper still may not reveal sources

The company said in a written statement its decision to turn over the records should prevent Cooper from serving any time.

"We believe that our decision to provide the special prosecutor with the subpoenaed records obviates the need for Matt Cooper to testify and certainly removes any justification for incarceration," the statement said.

Pearlstine said he has spoken to Cooper about the company's decision.

"Matt as an individual reporter has to make a decision on his own about what he will do with regard to his confidential sources," he said. "If Matt chooses to withhold the confidentiality of his sources, then a decision will have to be made by the judge."

Asked outside the courthouse Wednesday about the possibility Time would turn over his notes, Cooper said, "I would prefer that they did not."

"But they have to make their own decision. The corporation is different than the person," he said. "I think certainly there's no shame and no dishonor in fighting all the way to the Supreme Court of the United States and complying with a lawful court order, if that is what Time in fact chooses to do."

The case stems from a July 14, 2003 column by Robert Novak in which he revealed Valeria Plame's identity as a CIA operative. Novak, who also is a CNN contributor, attributed the information to two senior administration officials.

Plame's husband is Joe Wilson, a former U.S. ambassador to Iraq. Wilson charged that his wife's name was leaked to retaliate against him after he disputed Bush administration statements that Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein had tried to purchase uranium in Africa.

Cooper, along with two other Time reporters, wrote a story on the issue three days after Novak's column was published. Miller faces jail time for refusing to reveal sources she developed during her reporting, even though she never actually wrote a story on Plame or Wilson.

The subpoena issued to Time seeks documents relating to "conversations between Cooper and official source(s) prior to July 14, 2003 concerning in any way" Wilson, Wilson's 2002 trip to Niger, Plame, and any affiliation between Plame and the CIA.

NYT 'deeply disappointed'

Miller said Thursday she had no comment on Time's decision, but The New York Times released a statement saying it was "deeply disappointed."

"We faced similar pressures in 1978 when both our reporter Myron Farber and the Times Company were held in contempt of court for refusing to provide the names of confidential sources. Mr. Farber served 40 days in jail and we were forced to pay significant fines," a statement from Arthur Sulzberger Jr., publisher of The New York Times and chairman of The New York Times Company.

"Our focus is now on our own reporter, Judith Miller, and in supporting her during this difficult time," the statement concluded.

A federal judge was scheduled to decide next week whether Cooper and Miller would have to go to jail.

At a meeting Wednesday, attorneys for both Miller and Cooper told U.S. District Judge Thomas Hogan that they intended to stick to their decision not to reveal their sources. He gave their attorneys until Friday to submit additional arguments and set a final hearing for July 6.

"The time has come to proceed," the judge said. "The rule of law is at stake."

When asked Wednesday if Miller still refused to reveal her sources, her lawyer, Robert Bennett, said, "That is correct."

Bennett told CNN Thursday he hoped Time's decision to turn over the subpoenaed documents "will eliminate the need for Judy's testimony and that this crisis can be ended."

In court Wednesday, the judge also had said Time Inc. would face civil penalties of a "substantial sum" if it did not turn over documents, including Cooper's notes, to the grand jury as ordered.

Pearlstine said the threat of financial repercussions was not a factor in his decision.

"This is really more one about editorial independence and a question of whether editors are above the law that applies to all of us," he said.

In its statement Thursday, Time Inc. noted that even though it "strongly disagrees with the courts," such a position "provides no immunity."

"The same Constitution that protects the freedom of the press requires obedience to final decisions of the courts and respect for their rulings and judgments," the statement said.

The company also emphasized that its "decision doesn't represent a change in our philosophy, nor does it reflect a departure from our belief in the need for confidential sources."

A chilling effect?

Time Inc. predicted that the Supreme Court's decision could have damaging effects.

"In declining to review the important issues presented by this case, we believe that the Supreme Court has limited press freedom in ways that will have a chilling effect on our work and that may damage the free flow of information that is so necessary in a democratic society," the statement said. "It may also encourage excesses by overzealous prosecutors."

Pearlstine said he believes a chilling effect is "exactly what the courts want."

"That's what the courts have concluded when they said that they think a citizen's duty to testify before a grand jury takes precedence over the First Amendment," he explained. "I don't agree with that, but I don't make the laws, I just have to follow them like every other citizen."

Under federal law, civil contempt can carry up to 18 months in jail or the length of the grand jury's term, whichever is shorter. Hogan said the term of the grand jury in this case expires in October, so Miller and Cooper only face up to four months in jail.

Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal by Miller and Cooper of a February ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, which held that neither the First Amendment nor federal common law allows reporters to refuse to testify before a federal grand jury investigating a possible crime.

Meanwhile, Novak said Wednesday that he deplores the fact that the two reporters could go to jail, although he insisted "they're not going to jail because of me."

As he has throughout the controversy, Novak, a syndicated columnist and CNN contributor, told CNN's "Inside Politics" that he cannot talk about the case now, but he said he does plan to reveal the circumstances once the case is settled. (Full story)

"I will reveal all in a column," he said. "I'd like to say a lot about the case, but because of my attorney's advice, I can't. But I will, and there might be some surprising things."

In July 2003, Novak, citing unidentified senior administration sources, revealed Plame's identity as a CIA operative.

Because federal law makes it a crime to deliberately reveal the identity of a CIA operative, the Justice Department launched an investigation, headed by U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald of Chicago.

A spokesman for Fitzgerald's office Thursday would not comment on the decision by Time Inc. to turn over the subpoenaed documents, and would not comment when asked if the move means Cooper and Miller could be released from testifying.

As part of his probe, Fitzgerald subpoenaed some journalists to testify about their sources. Miller and Cooper and their news organizations decided to fight the subpoenas, although Cooper did reveal one unnamed source who released him from confidentiality pledge.

CNN correspondent Kimberly Osias and producer Carol Cratty contributed to this report.

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