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Like Bush, Obama Subpoenas New York Times Reporter

April 29, 2010

In early 2008, the Bush Justice Department subpoenaed New York Times reporter James Risen over his book, State of War: The Secret History of the C.I.A. and the Bush Administration. Now, just two weeks after taking action against an NSA whistle-blower who leaked information about contract corruption to the Baltimore Sun, the Obama DOJ is continuing its predecessor's push to compel Risen to divulge his confidential sources.
Risen and his Times' colleague Eric Lichtblau have long been targets of conservative ire for their December 2005 revelations about President Bush's regime of illicit domestic surveillance by the NSA. (While President Bush branded the article a "shameful act" that is "helping the enemy," Commentary editor Gabriel Schoenfeld hoped Risen and Lichtblau might be indicted, or at least, found "in contempt of court and even land them in prison.") But two years ago, the Justice Department subpoenaed Risen not for his NSA reporting, but revelations in a chapter of his 2006 book about the CIA's failed efforts to subvert the Iranian nuclear program.
Now, as the New York Times detailed, despite the Obama administration's professions of support for a new media-shield law, Attorney General Eric Holder is continuing President Bush's pursuit of Risen:

The Obama administration is seeking to compel a writer to testify about his confidential sources for a 2006 book about the Central Intelligence Agency, a rare step that was authorized by Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr.

The author, James Risen, who is a reporter for The New York Times, received a subpoena on Monday requiring him to provide documents and to testify May 4 before a grand jury in Alexandria, Va., about his sources for a chapter of his book, "State of War: The Secret History of the C.I.A. and the Bush Administration." The chapter largely focuses on problems with a covert C.I.A. effort to disrupt alleged Iranian nuclear weapons research...

The Bush administration had sought Mr. Risen's cooperation in identifying his sources for the Iran chapter of his book, and it obtained an earlier subpoena against him in January 2008 under Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey. But Mr. Risen fought the subpoena, and never had to testify before it expired last summer. That left it up to Mr. Holder to decide whether to press forward with the matter by seeking a new subpoena.

In response, Risen's attorney Joel Kurtzberg said his client would fight the subpoena, declaring, "He intends to honor his commitment of confidentiality to his source or sources."
Having continued down the path of whistle-blower retribution, the question now for Holder is where it will end. Will Thomas Tamm, the official who admitted in 2008 to bringing the NSA warrantless wiretapping story to the New York Times face prosecution? As Glenn Greenwald related, in January 2009, just days before the Bush administration headed off into the sunset, Bush DOJ attorney Steve Tyrell sent an ominous letter to Tamm's lawyer, Paul Kemp:

The letter begins by announcing that the DOJ and FBI are "presently investigating the unauthorized disclosure of classified information regarding the Presidentially-authorized NSA program...(hereinafter, 'The Terrorist Surveillance Program')." It then references the Newsweek article and "ask[s] whether [Tamm] is willing to reconsider his prior refusal to speak with agents of the FBI and/or to testify before the Grand Jury regarding his knowledge of and/or participation in the disclosure of TSP-related information to [James] Risen, Mr. Lichtblau and others." It demands an answer from Tamm by January 9 -- 11 days before Obama is to be inaugurated -- and then threateningly warns: "if I do not hear from you by that date, I will assume that Mr. Tamm is not interested in submitting to a voluntary interview or testifying before the Grand Jury": an obvious threat that he may be subpoenaed and compelled to do so.

Then there is the prospect of prosecution of the New York Times and reporters Risen and Lichtblau for the publication of the story about illegal domestic spying by President Bush. As Gabriel Schoenfeld wrote today in the Weekly Standard, nothing would make the right-wing echo chamber happier:

What gives? Is the president now unaccountably reversing field and waging a war on the American press? Or do we have here, finally, a recognition that the revelation of secrets, particularly those involving ongoing classified intelligence programs, can place us all at risk?

Nothing except, that is, to see Barack Obama leading the inquisition.


Jon Perr
Jon Perr is a technology marketing consultant and product strategist who writes about American politics and public policy.

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