New York Times reporter Judith Miller, jailed since July 6 for refusing to reveal a confidential source, was freed Thursday after agreeing to testify about her conversations with the source.
Miller is expected to appear today before a federal grand jury investigating whether anyone in the Bush administration leaked the name of a covert CIA officer to reporters.
Her surprise release, negotiated between Times lawyers and a Justice Department special prosecutor, came after Miller received what the newspaper described as “a direct and un-coerced waiver” from her source that released her from any pledge of confidentiality and enabled her to testify.
Although the New York Times did not identify the source, people close to the case said that it was I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff. Miller is expected to testify about conversations she had had with Libby, sources said. The sources spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the secrecy of the grand jury proceedings.
Miller’s testimony had been sought as part of a nearly two-year probe into whether the White House played a role in leaking the name of a CIA officer, Valerie Plame, to journalists, and violated a federal law that makes it a crime to identify covert agents.
Plame is married to former envoy Joseph C. Wilson IV, who wrote an op-ed article for the New York Times criticizing the administration’s use of intelligence in justifying the war with Iraq. On July 14, 2003, eight days after that article was published, Robert Novak identified Plame by name and occupation in a syndicated column that attacked Wilson.
Among other avenues, the special prosecutor in the case, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, has been investigating whether White House officials, including Libby and Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove, were fully forthcoming with investigators about their knowledge of Plame and how her name became public.
Miller’s agreement to cooperate suggests that Fitzgerald may be in a position to wrap up his investigation into the politically charged case. Depending on his findings, it could bring further damaging news to the administration, already rocked over its handling of hurricane relief along the Gulf Coast and the indictment this week of House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas).
Neither Libby nor his lawyer, Joseph Tate of Philadelphia, could be reached for comment Thursday night.
Rove’s lawyer, Robert Luskin, who has said that his client was told more than a year ago that he was not a target of the investigation, said in an interview late Thursday that he had no reason to believe Rove’s status had changed.
In a statement, Miller said: “I am leaving jail today because my source has now voluntarily and personally released me from my promise of confidentiality regarding our conversations relating to the Wilson-Plame matter.
“My attorneys have also reached agreement with the Office of Special Counsel regarding the nature and scope of my testimony, which satisfied my obligation as a reporter to keep faith with my sources.”
It was unclear whether Miller would be testifying about conversations with other individuals, although one source close to the case indicated that her testimony would be limited to her discussions with Libby.
Libby has denied leaking Plame’s name and has said that he first heard about her from journalists. Some people close to the case have said that Miller herself may have helped identify Plame to administration officials and is protecting another source who gave her that information.
Miller, 57, a veteran investigative reporter, spent 85 days in jail, housed in a federal detention center in Alexandria, Va., whose inmates include Zacarias Moussaoui, the French national who pleaded guilty this spring to conspiring with Al Qaeda operatives involved in the Sept. 11 terrorist plot.
Her incarceration, among the longest any journalist has undergone for protecting a confidential source, sparked an outcry from media groups and has triggered renewed interest in Congress concerning federal legislation to prevent journalists from going to jail for protecting sources who provide information about official misconduct.
What made Miller’s case particularly unusual was that, unlike other journalists called to testify, she never wrote an article about Plame and Wilson.
Miller was found in civil contempt of court and sent to jail by a federal judge in Washington in July after refusing a demand from Fitzgerald to testify about conversations she had with an administration figure -- widely presumed to be Libby -- in the eight days between the time Wilson’s article was published and Plame was identified in Novak’s column.
At the behest of Fitzgerald, Libby and others in the administration had earlier provided a general written waiver releasing journalists from their pledge of confidentiality and allowing them to discuss their conversations. Many journalists in the case, including Miller, regarded those blanket waivers as overly impersonal and meaningless.
Libby has shown a willingness in the past to offer more personal assurances when asked, freeing journalists to talk. Time magazine reporter Matthew Cooper, who barely avoided jail at the same time Miller was sentenced last summer, testified about Libby after approaching the White House aide for a waiver.
Sources close to the case said that Libby talked directly with Miller about 10 days ago, releasing her from any pledge of confidentiality.
The New York Times reported in today’s editions that the agreement that led to Miller’s release followed negotiations involving Miller; her lawyer, Robert Bennett; Tate; and Fitzgerald, and that the talks began with a telephone call from Bennett to Tate in late August.
According to the Times account, Libby and Tate strenuously argued that a waiver Libby had provided more than a year earlier was adequate to cover Miller, and that additional assurances were unnecessary.
People close to the case speculated that the possibility of a grueling and seemingly endless jail term may also have been a factor in the resolution.
Miller was sent to jail for the length of the grand jury investigating the Plame case, which is due to expire Oct. 28. The grand jury’s term could be extended by six months.
At the same time, Fitzgerald had raised the possibility in court that he might seek to have the reporter held in criminal contempt if she continued to refuse to cooperate. Under federal law, the penalty for criminal contempt is a maximum of five years in prison. A spokesman for Fitzgerald declined to comment late Thursday on any aspect of Miller’s release.