Fourth Circuit Guts National Security Investigative Journalism Everywhere It Matters

The Fourth Circuit — which covers CIA, JSOC, and NSA’s territory — just ruled that journalists who are witnesses to alleged crimes (or participants, the opinion ominously notes) must testify in the trial.

There is no First Amendment testimonial privilege, absolute or qualified, that protects a reporter from being compelled to testify by the prosecution or the defense in criminal proceedings about criminal conduct that the reporter personally witnessed or participated in, absent a showing of bad faith, harassment, or other such non-legitimate motive, even though the reporter promised confidentiality to his source.

With this language, the Fourth applies the ruling in Branzburg — which, after all, pertained to the observation of a drug-related crime — to a news-gathering activity, the receipt of classified information for all the states in which it most matters.

The opinion goes on to echo DOJ’s claims (which I recalled just yesterday) that Risen’s testimony is specifically necessary.

Indeed, he can provide the only first-hand account of the commission of a most serious crime indicted by the grand jury –- the illegal disclosure of classified, national security information by one who was entrusted by our government to protect national security, but who is charged with having endangered it instead.

[snip]

There is no dispute that the information sought from Risen is relevant. Moreover, it “can[not] be obtained by alternative means.” Id. at 1139. The circumstantial evidence that the government has been able to glean from incomplete and inconclusive documents, and from the hearsay statements of witnesses with no personal or first-hand knowledge of the critical aspects of the charged crimes, does not serve as a fair or reasonable substitute.

[snip]

Risen is the only eyewitness to the crime. He is inextricably involved in it. Without him, the alleged crime would not have occurred, since he was the recipient of illegally-disclosed, classified information. And it was through the publication of his book, State of War, that the classified information made its way into the public domain. He is the only witness who can specify the classified information that he received, and the source or sources from whom he received it.

[snip]

Clearly, Risen’s direct, first-hand account of the criminal conduct indicted by the grand jury cannot be obtained by alternative means, as Risen is without dispute the only witness who can offer this critical testimony.

This language will enhance the strength of the reservation DOJ made to its News Media Policies, allowing it to require testimony if it is essential to successful prosecution.

The only limit on the government’s authority to compel testimony under this opinion is if the government is harassing the journalist, which (with proof of the way the government collected phone records, which remains secret) might have been proven in this case. There is a strong case to be made that the entire point of this trial is to put James Risen, not Jeffrey Sterling, in jail. But Leonie Brinkema has already ruled against it. I think the subpoena for 20 AP phone lines might rise to that level as well, except that case is being investigated in the DC Circuit, where this ruling doesn’t apply.

This pretty much guts national security journalism in the states in which it matters.

Golly. It was just last week when the press believed DOJ’s News Media Guidelines would protect the press’ work.

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Emptywheel Twitterverse
JimWhiteGNV RT @APDiploWriter: KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) - #Afghanistan, #US sign security pact allowing US forces to remain in country past end of year.
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bmaz RT @JackofKent: Today the Tories will deride the Human Rights Act, which you can enforce in court, and praise Magna Carta, which you cannot.
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bmaz @MonaHol @emptywheel It absolutely is worth it. More people should understand what's being done. It is just sad this is "news" cause its not
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emptywheel @MonaHol I believe it can be shown to be either non-compliant or partial, but haven't looked closely yet. @bmaz
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emptywheel @MonaHol What is actual news abt ACLU release is govt has now committed to what their 12333 compliance is. @bmaz
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emptywheel @MonaHol Glad docs are out so other people stop getting snookered by sources. But that was easily avoidable. @bmaz
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emptywheel @MonaHol It was also laid out in FISCR opinion declassed in 2009. Big part of 2007 debate on FAA. And so on and so on @bmaz
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emptywheel @MonaHol For those who haven't read 2009 docs this might be surprising. But far more substantive details already in record. @bmaz
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emptywheel @MonaHol Not in the least surprising. Many of my 50+ posts on all this lay that out. Clarke testified to same. @bmaz
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emptywheel @pwnallthethings First shot at Awlaki may have been parts of DOD going rogue, but generally agree. @normative @BradMossEsq
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emptywheel @pwnallthethings That said, on both torture and Awlaki killing, case is strong POTUS did not comply w/Findings reqt @normative @BradMossEsq
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emptywheel @pwnallthethings Actually think Findings like system is minimal change that should have come fr Snowden's leaks. @normative @BradMossEsq
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