New York Times reporter James Risen will not be called to testify in the trial of Jeffrey Sterling, a former CIA officer charged with leaking classified information, the Department of Justice said in court papers filed Monday.
In a motion filed in the U.S. District Court in Alexandra, Va., federal prosecutors asked the court to “exclude James Risen as an unavailable witness” and said the jury “should draw no inferences, favorable or unfavorable” based on his absence as a witness.
Calling the Pulitzer Prize winner, who has repeatedly refused to reveal his sources for his 2006 book “State of War,” would “simply frustrate the truth-seeking function of the trial,” prosecutors said.
Risen’s book revealed classified information, including embarrassing details of CIA operations in Iran.
The government’s move to exclude Risen as a witness appears to end a more than six-year battle between the former Los Angeles Times journalist and the Department of Justice, which has been criticized for its aggressive pursuit of reporters involved in national security leaks.
U.S. Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. has said that on his watch, no reporter would go to jail for doing his or her job.
Jury selection for Sterling’s trial is scheduled to begin Tuesday.
In a pretrial hearing last week, lawyers for both sides attempted to gauge which questions, if any, Risen would be willing to answer.
Risen initially refused to respond directly to even general questions about the case, such as whether he had confidentiality agreements with sources while doing the reporting for “State of War.”
The reporter later changed his mind after a prosecutor showed him years-old affidavits in which he’d answered the same questions. Still, Risen said that he would not identify his sources or even say where he was when he received the information.
In its motion Monday, federal prosecutors in Alexandria said Risen had “made one point abundantly clear, testifying repeatedly that if called as a witness at trial, he would refuse to answer questions that go to the heart of the case,” regardless of the punishment he might face.
Risen’s testimony last week “laid to rest any doubt concerning whether he will ever disclose his source or sources,” prosecutors said. “He will not.”
Federal prosecutors also attempted to bar Sterling’s defense attorneys from using Risen’s testimony, a move denied by Judge Leonie Brinkema.
Edward MacMahon, an attorney representing Sterling, confirmed that the defense had withdrawn a subpoena calling on Risen to testify on the defense’s behalf. Sterling’s lawyers still plan to present transcripts of Risen’s Jan. 5 testimony as part of their case, MacMahon said, but he will not be asked to take the stand again.
“Mr. Risen’s legal battle is over,” MacMahon told the Los Angeles Times on Monday.
New York Times Executive Editor Dean Baquet said in a statement that he is “glad the government realizes that Jim Risen was an aggressive reporter doing his job and that he should not be forced to reveal his source.”
Times staff writer Timothy Phelps contributed to this report.
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