Miller testifies in leak case after 85 days in jail
Published: Saturday, October 1, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, October 1, 2005 at 12:04 a.m.
WASHINGTON - Judith Miller, the reporter for The New York Times who had been jailed since July 6 for refusing to testify in the CIA leak case, testified for more than three hours on Friday before a federal grand jury investigating the case. Then she headed home to Long Island, N.Y., where, she said, she was eager to have a home-cooked meal and hug her dog.
"Believe me, I did not want to be in jail," she told reporters in front of the federal courthouse here, a day after she was released from a Virginia detention center after she and her lawyers reached an agreement with a federal prosecutor.
The pillars of that agreement, she said, were an assurance from a news source that she could testify without violating his confidence, plus a promise from the federal prosecutor, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, that her testimony to the grand jury would be limited in scope.
Had she not been given those assurances, Miller said as she stood tired but smiling in the midday sun, she was prepared to stay in jail longer rather than break her word. "I am hopeful that my long stay in jail will strengthen the bond between reporters and their sources," she said.
Miller said she hoped that her case would cast a spotlight on the need for a federal shield law protecting reporters from having to divulge sources of confidential information.
Since Miller never wrote an article about the leak of the name of a CIA operative, questions linger as to why her testimony was so important to the prosecutor. "You'll have to ask Mr. Fitzgerald," she said Friday.
Nor was it entirely clear Friday whether what she called the "personal, explicit, voluntary waiver" of confidentiality from her source might have been available to her earlier.
Her decision to testify was made after she had obtained what she described as a waiver offered "voluntarily and personally" by a source who said she was no longer bound by any pledge of confidentiality she had made to him. Miller said the source had made clear that he genuinely wanted her to testify. That source was I. Lewis Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff, according to people who have been officially briefed on the case. They said Miller met with Libby on July 8, 2003, and talked with him by telephone later that week.
Discussions between officials and journalists that week that may have disclosed the identity of a Central Intelligence Agency operative, Valerie Wilson, have been a central focus of the investigation.
Miller was released after she and her lawyers met at the jail with Fitzgerald to discuss her testimony.
The publisher of The Times, Arthur Ochs Sulzberger Jr., said in a statement that the newspaper supported Miller's decision, just as it had backed her refusal to testify.
"Judy has been unwavering in her commitment to protect the confidentiality of her source," Sulzberger said. "We are very pleased that she has finally received a direct and uncoerced waiver, both by phone and in writing, releasing her from any claim of confidentiality and enabling her to testify."
Sulzberger was by Miller's side in front of the courthouse on Friday, as was Bill Keller, the newspaper's executive editor.
For more than a year, Fitzgerald has sought testimony from Miller about conversations she had with Libby. Her willingness to testify now was in part based on personal assurances given by Libby this month that he had no objection to her discussing their conversations with the grand jury, according to those officials briefed on the case.
Fitzgerald's investigation has centered on whether anyone in the Bush administration illegally disclosed to the news media the identity of Wilson, a CIA employee. The first published reference to Wilson was in July 2003 in a syndicated column by Robert D. Novak, who referred to her by her maiden name, Valerie Plame.
Another important question has been whether officials were truthful in their testimony to investigators and the grand jury.
Fitzgerald has said that obtaining Miller's testimony was one of the last remaining objectives of his inquiry, and the deal with her suggests that the prosecutor may soon end the long-running investigation. It is unknown whether prosecutors will charge anyone in the Bush administration with wrongdoing.
The agreement that led to Miller's release followed intense negotiations among her; her lawyer, Robert Bennett; Libby's lawyer, Joseph Tate; and Fitzgerald.
The talks began with a telephone call from Bennett to Tate in late August. Miller spoke with Libby by telephone this month as their lawyers listened, according to people who have been briefed on the case. It was then that Libby told Miller that she had his personal and voluntary waiver.
The discussions were at times strained, with Libby and Tate asserting that they communicated their voluntary waiver to another lawyer for Miller, Floyd Abrams, more than a year ago, according to those briefed on the case.
Other people involved in the case have said Miller did not understand that the waiver had been freely given and did not accept it until she had heard from Libby directly.
Miller authorized her lawyers to seek further clarification from Libby's representatives in late August, after she had been in jail for more than a month. Libby wrote to Miller in mid-September saying he believed that her lawyers understood during discussions last year that his waiver was voluntary.
On Sept. 16, Tate wrote to Fitzgerald saying his conversations with Abrams last year were meant to assure Miller that a broad waiver that Libby signed in late 2003 was not coerced and applied specifically to Miller.
On Thursday, Abrams wrote to Tate disputing parts of Tate's account. His letter said although Tate had said the waiver was voluntary, Tate had also said any waiver sought as a condition of employment was inherently coercive.
Tate said in an interview on Thursday, "Her lawyers were provided with a waiver that we said was voluntary more than a year ago." Abrams would not discuss the question in a brief telephone conversation on Thursday.
As part of the agreement, Bennett gave Fitzgerald edited versions of notes taken by Miller about her conversations with Libby.
In statements on Thursday, Miller and executives of Times did not identify the source who had urged Miller to testify. Bill Keller, the executive editor, said Fitzgerald had assured Miller's lawyer that "he intended to limit his grand jury interrogation so that it would not implicate other sources of hers."
Miller's lawyers had sought such an assurance as a condition of her testimony.
Keller said Fitzgerald cleared the way to an agreement by assuring Miller and her source that he would not regard a conversation between the two about a possible waiver as an obstruction of justice.
According to someone who has been briefed on Libby's testimony and who believes that his statements show he did nothing wrong, Miller asked Libby during their conversations in July 2003 whether he knew Joseph C. Wilson IV, the former ambassador who wrote an Op-Ed article in The Times on July 6, 2003, criticizing the Bush administration. Miller's lawyers declined to discuss the conversations.
Libby said that he did not know Wilson but that he had heard from the CIA that the former ambassador's wife, an agency employee, might have had a role in arranging a trip that Wilson took to Africa on behalf of the agency to investigate reports of Iraq's efforts to obtain nuclear material. Wilson's wife is Valerie Plame Wilson.
Libby did not know her name or her position at the agency and therefore did not discuss these matters with Miller, the person who had been briefed on the matter said. Miller said she believed that the agreement between her lawyers and Fitzgerald "satisfies my obligation as a reporter to keep faith with my sources."
"I went to jail," she added, "to preserve the time-honored principle that a journalist must respect a promise not to reveal the identity of a confidential source. I chose to take the consequences, 85 days in prison, rather than violate that promise. The principle was more important to uphold than my personal freedom. "
Miller said she was grateful for the "unwavering support" shown by her husband, family and friends and The Times. Fitzgerald declined to comment, said a spokesman, Randall Samborn.
The case has been the most significant test in decades of whether reporters can refuse to disclose to prosecutors their discussions with confidential sources. Many journalists say those sources would refuse to provide information if their anonymity could not be protected.
At least four other reporters are known to have provided information to Fitzgerald. But Miller had refused to do so. In July, the Supreme Court refused to hear her appeal of a lower court order that she be jailed for contempt for her refusal to testify.
CIA leak investigation timeline
A timeline in the case of Judith Miller, a New York Times reporter jailed for 85 days after refusing to divulge her sources to a prosecutor investigating the Bush administration's role in leaking a CIA officer's identity:
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