In re Grand Jury Subpoena, Judith Miller

Decision Date15 February 2005
Docket Number04-3139,04-3140.,No. 04-3133,04-3133
Citation438 F.3d 1141
PartiesIn re: GRAND JURY SUBPOENA, JUDITH MILLER.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — District of Columbia Circuit

Floyd Abrams argued the cause for appellants. With him on the briefs was Joel Kurtzberg. Donald J. Mulvihill entered an appearance.

Reid Alan Cox was on the brief for amicus curiae Center for Individual Freedom in support of appellants.

Theodore J. Boutrous, Jr. and Thomas H. Dupree, Jr. were on the brief for amici curiae Magazine Publishers of America, Inc., et al. in support of appellants.

James P. Fleissner, Assistant U.S. Attorney, argued the cause and filed the brief for appellee.

Before: SENTELLE, HENDERSON and TATEL, Circuit Judges.

Opinion for the Court filed by Circuit Judge SENTELLE.

Concurring opinion filed by Circuit Judge SENTELLE.

Concurring opinion filed by Circuit Judge HENDERSON.

Opinion concurring in the judgment filed by Circuit Judge TATEL.

SENTELLE, Circuit Judge.

An investigative reporter for the New York Times; the White House correspondent for the weekly news magazine Time; and Time, Inc., the publisher of Time, appeal from orders of the District Court for the District of Columbia finding all three appellants in civil contempt for refusing to give evidence in response to grand jury subpoenas served by Special Counsel Patrick J. Fitzgerald. Appellants assert that the information concealed by them, specifically the identity of confidential sources, is protected by a reporter's privilege arising from the First Amendment, or failing that, by federal common law privilege. The District Court held that neither the First Amendment nor the federal common law provides protection for journalists' confidential sources in the context of a grand jury investigation. For the reasons set forth below, we agree with the District Court that there is no First Amendment privilege protecting the evidence sought. We further conclude that if any such common law privilege exists, it is not absolute, and in this case has been overcome by the filings of the Special Counsel with the District Court. We further conclude that other assignments of error raised by appellants are without merit. We therefore affirm the decision of the District Court.

I. Background

According to the briefs and record before us, the controversy giving rise to this litigation began with a political and news media controversy over a sixteen-word sentence in the State of the Union Address of President George W. Bush on January 28, 2003. In that address, President Bush stated: "The British government has learned that Saddam Hussein recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa." The ensuing public controversy focused not on the British source of the alleged information, but rather on the accuracy of the proposition that Saddam Hussein had sought uranium, a key ingredient in the development of nuclear weaponry, from Africa. Many publications on the subject followed. On July 6, 2003, the New York Times published an op-ed piece by former Ambassador Joseph Wilson, in which he claimed to have been sent to Niger in 2002 by the Central Intelligence Agency ("CIA") in response to inquiries from Vice President Cheney to investigate whether Iraq had been seeking to purchase uranium from Niger. Wilson claimed that he had conducted the requested investigation and reported on his return that there was no credible evidence that any such effort had been made.

On July 14, 2003, columnist Robert Novak published a column in the Chicago Sun-Times in which he asserted that the decision to send Wilson to Niger had been made "routinely without Director George Tenet's knowledge," and, most significant to the present litigation, that "two senior administration officials" told him that Wilson's selection was at the suggestion of Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, whom Novak described as a CIA "operative on weapons of mass destruction." Robert Novak, The Mission to Niger, CHI. SUN-TIMES, July 14, 2003, at 31. After Novak's column was published, various media accounts reported that other reporters had been told by government officials that Wilson's wife worked at the CIA monitoring weapons of mass destruction, and that she was involved in her husband's selection for the mission to Niger. One such article, published by Time.com on July 17, 2003, was authored in part by appellant Matthew Cooper. That article stated that:

Some government officials have noted to Time in interviews . . . that Wilson's wife, Valerie Plame, is a CIA official who monitors the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction . . . and have suggested that she was involved in the husband's being dispatched to Niger to investigate reports that Saddam Hussein's government had sought to purchase large quantities of uranium ore. . . .

Matthew Cooper et al., A War on Wilson?, TIME.COM, at http://www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,465270,00.html (Dec. 13, 2004). Other media accounts reported that "two top White House officials called at least six Washington journalists and disclosed the identity and occupation of Wilson's wife." Mike Allen & Dana Priest, Bush Administration is Focus of Inquiry; CIA Agent's Identity was Leaked to Media, WASH. POST, Sept. 28, 2003, at A1. The Department of Justice undertook an investigation into whether government employees had violated federal law by the unauthorized disclosure of the identity of a CIA agent. See, e.g., 50 U.S.C. § 421 (criminalizing, inter alia, disclosure of the identity of a covert agent by anyone having had authorized access to classified information). As the investigation proceeded, in December of 2003, the Attorney General recused himself from participation and delegated his full authority in the investigation to the Deputy Attorney General as Acting Attorney General. The Deputy, in turn, appointed Patrick J. Fitzgerald, United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, as Special Counsel and delegated full authority concerning the investigation to him. As part of the ongoing investigation, a grand jury investigation began in January of 2004.

In cooperation with Special Counsel Fitzgerald, the grand jury conducted an extensive investigation. On May 21, 2004, a grand jury subpoena was issued to appellant Matthew Cooper, seeking testimony and documents related to two specific articles dated July 17, 2003, and July 21, 2003, to which Cooper had contributed. Cooper refused to comply with the subpoena, even after the Special Counsel offered to narrow its scope to cover only conversations between Cooper and a specific individual identified by the Special Counsel. Instead, Cooper moved to quash the subpoena on June 3, 2004. On July 6, 2004, the Chief Judge of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia denied Cooper's motion in open court, and confirmed the denial with reasoning set forth in a written order issued on July 20, 2004.

A further grand jury subpoena was issued to Time, Inc., seeking the same documents requested in the subpoena to Cooper. Time also moved to quash its subpoena. On August 6, 2004, the District Court denied Time's motion. Both Cooper and Time refused to comply with the subpoenas despite the District Court's denial of their motions to quash. The District Court thereafter found that Cooper and Time had refused to comply with the subpoenas without just cause and held them in civil contempt of court. After both Cooper and Time had filed appeals, and further negotiations between Special Counsel and the two had proceeded, Cooper agreed to provide testimony and documents relevant to a specific source who had stated that he had no objection to their release. Cooper and Time fulfilled their obligations under the agreement, the Special Counsel moved to vacate the District Court's contempt order, and the notices of appeal were voluntarily dismissed.

On September 13, 2004, the grand jury issued a further subpoena to Cooper seeking "any and all documents . . . relating to conversations between Matthew Cooper and official source(s) prior to July 14, 2003, concerning in any way: former Ambassador Joseph Wilson; the 2002 trip by former Ambassador Wilson to Niger; Valerie Wilson Plame, a/k/a Valerie Wilson, a/k/a Valerie Plame (the wife of former Ambassador Wilson); and/or any affiliation between Valerie Wilson Plame and the CIA." An August 2, 2004 subpoena to Time requested "all notes, tape recordings, e-mails, or other documents of Matthew Cooper relating to the July 17, 2003 Time.com article entitled `A War on Wilson?' and the July 21, 2003 Time Magazine article entitled, `A Question of Trust.'" Cooper and Time again moved to quash the subpoenas, and on October 7, 2004, the District Court denied the motion. The two refused to comply with the subpoenas, and on October 13, 2004, the District Court held that their refusal was without just cause and held both in contempt.

In the meantime, on August 12 and August 14, grand jury subpoenas were issued to Judith Miller, seeking documents and testimony related to conversations between her and a specified government official "occurring from on or about July 6, 2003, to on or about July 13, 2003, . . . concerning Valerie Plame Wilson (whether referred to by name or by description as the wife of Ambassador Wilson) or concerning Iraqi efforts to obtain uranium." Miller refused to comply with the subpoenas and moved to quash them. The District Court denied Miller's motion to quash. Thereafter, the court found that Miller had refused to comply without just cause and held her in civil contempt of court also. She also has appealed.

The appellants have proceeded with common counsel and common briefing in a consolidated proceeding before this court. They assert four theories for reversal. Their first claim is that the First Amendment affords journalists a constitutional right to conceal their confidential sources even...

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