The Daily Banter

Eric Holder on Press Freedom: “No Reporters are Going to Jail as Long as I’m Attorney General”

A matter of hours after we published a follow-up on reporter James Risen and the Obama administration’s record on press freedom, Attorney General Eric Holder appeared at the Washington Ideas Forum on Wednesday and was asked by moderator Jonathan Capehart whether the U.S. Department of Justice will imprison reporters who have published top secret national security information provided by leakers. The exchange went like so:

HOLDER: This whole question of whistleblowers, we have gone after people who have gone — who have said things or revealed things contrary to the oaths they have taken. And when it comes to reporters, what I have said, you know we made in the processes we have in place about how we interact with members of the media after the controversies erupted a couple of years or so ago. But beyond that, what I have said and what is a guiding force for this administration is that any reporter who is doing his or her job in gathering news is not going to go to jail as a result of that kind of activity.

CAPEHART: But are you gonna compel them to testify? Such as James Risen of The New York Times?

HOLDER: You know, the case is still one that has to be tried, and I think we will take actions that are consistent with what I just said.

CAPEHART: Such as compelling testimony?

HOLDER: No, no, no, we’ll see how that goes. You know, people have to understand something, we have been in touch with Mr. Risen’s lawyers, we talked about a variety of things. And if what we have talked about remains true, I think there’ll be a resolution of that, that will be satisfactory to everybody. But as I said no one’s gonna be going to jail — no reporters are going to jail as long as I’m attorney general.

This is a fairly typical Holder response. Frustratingly coy in some places, but likely so for legal reasons since, clearly, these are open cases that haven’t gone to trial yet (the Jeffrey Sterling case involving Risen goes to trial in January). Anyone expecting the Attorney General of the United States to lay out his prosecutorial strategy or any backroom deals for these or any other cases is foolish to think so. But he stated twice that he has no intention of jailing any reporters.

That said, Risen’s lawyer, Joel Kurtzberg, told Politico, “I’m not sure what the Attorney General is referring to. We have no agreement with the Government about Mr. Risen’s testimony.” So, who do we believe? First of all, Holder never really mentioned an “agreement” per se, rather just being in touch. Additionally, according to Politico, federal prosecutors in fact agreed to only seek the “where” and the “when” of Risen’s alleged contact with his source. Such talks sound an awful lot like “being in touch” to me. On the other hand, if there isn’t any deal for Risen’s testimony and Holder was simply lying, it’s a blunder of colossal proportions.


ht Nicole Naum