Reporter still refusing to testify in CIA Iran leak case

Prosecutors want James Risen to confirm that a former operative gave him classified info on botched Iran operation

James Risen (screen capture: YouTube/People Power Television)
James Risen (screen capture: YouTube/People Power Television)

ALEXANDRIA, Virginia — Federal prosecutors said Monday they have no deal in place with a New York Times reporter whose testimony they want as they prosecute a former CIA officer accused of leaking classified information about covert operations against Iran.

In a motion filed in US District Court in Alexandria, prosecutors say attorneys for journalist James Risen have told them that, even if subpoenaed, Risen will refuse to provide any substantive testimony at the pending trial of former CIA operative Jeffrey Sterling.

Prosecutors allege Sterling disclosed classified information about operations in Iran to Risen. They have said Risen’s testimony is integral to their case. The trial has been delayed three years while lawyers have debated whether Risen, as a journalist, enjoys any kind of immunity from being compelled to testify about his interactions with anonymous sources. In June, the US Supreme Court let stand a ruling from a federal appellate court in Richmond that Risen could be subpoenaed.

Since then, though, Attorney General Eric Holder has indicated he does not plan to jail reporters for contempt of court if they refuse to testify. Last week, Holder reiterated that stance and said he expected Risen’s situation to be resolved in a way that would satisfy all involved.

Sterling’s defense lawyers sought clarification of the government’s position after Holder’s most recent comments, prompting Monday’s filing by prosecutors.

Defense lawyers say they are entitled to know if prosecutors have reached any kind of deal with Risen on his testimony because such a deal could give him motivation to testify in a way that benefits the government.

“(T)he defense simply is being left in the dark,” defense lawyer Edward MacMahon wrote.

Risen’s lawyer, Joel Kurtzberg, did not return a call Monday seeking comment.

Sterling is being prosecuted under an espionage-related law that prohibits disclosure of national security information to those not entitled to receive it. Specifically, prosecutors say Sterling leaked information about a botched operation to cripple Iran’s nuclear program to Risen, a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter, who reported on the operation in his 2006 book State of War.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press.

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