Eric Holder Blinks: Won't Force Reporter James Risen To Reveal Source (Or Send Him To Jail)

from the could-have-done-that-a-while-ago dept

As we noted last month, the feds have started gearing up to try to force reporter James Risen to reveal his source on some CIA reporting from a few years ago. Risen, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, has been facing this threat for years. He’s made a compelling case that the whole thing was just to punish him for his reporting. The DOJ had no need for Risen to reveal his source (the DOJ basically knows who it is) and the whole thing is over a really minor issue. It really seemed like the whole thing was set up to see if they could force Risen to cough up the name to guarantee that future whistleblowers wouldn’t be able to trust Risen any more.

Well, that backfired big time.

Earlier this week, the judge in the case told the DOJ that it had one week to decide if it was going to call Risen as a witness:

Since June 2,2014, the United States has had over six months to decide whether it will subpoena James Risen to testify at this trial, which is scheduled to begin Monday, January 12, 2015. Because Mr. Risen’s presence or absence at the trial will have a significant impact on how the parties present their case, a decision about Mr. Risen must be made sufficiently before trial to enable the parties to prepare adequately.

Combine that with Eric Holder’s repeated promise that he wouldn’t put a reporter in jail (with the ridiculous loophole that depended on whether Holder decided that reporter was “doing his job” or doing something that Holder decided was not, in fact, “his job”) and it should come as little surprise that Holder has now blinked and said that the DOJ will not force Risen to reveal his source. Instead, the DOJ says that if they ask Risen to testify, it’ll solely be to “confirm that he had an agreement with a confidential source, and that he did write the book.”

It’s great that the DOJ is basically no longer threatening Risen with jail, but there is no reason at all that it had to wait so many years and go right down to the judge-imposed wire. Instead, the DOJ let Risen dangle for many years with the threat that he might have to go to jail to protect a source. That’s ridiculous and a shameful abuse of power to intimidate a great journalist.

Of course, there’s one upside for Risen: if you’re a whistleblower looking for a journalist you can trust, it looks like the DOJ just vouched for Risen’s credibility in keeping his sources secret.

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Comments on “Eric Holder Blinks: Won't Force Reporter James Risen To Reveal Source (Or Send Him To Jail)”

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Anonymous Coward says:

It seems every ruler, from time to time, needs to put someone’s ‘head on a pike’ to keep the rest in line. Dissident journalists are, after all, enemies of the state (i.e., the administration) in the highest degree. For Eric Holder to basically keep a loaded gun pointed at James Risen’s head for so long without ever pulling the trigger has served this purpose. It’s a fine line for any tyrant to walk: to be able to smite one’s enemies and intimidate potential troublemakers, yet maintain the illusion that press freedom actually exists.

It’s a mistake to credit (or blame) Eric Holder for any of this. His boss, the President, is the one who calls the shots, yet Obama strategically distances himself from his own bad decisions by having a proxy to hide behind — and take the blame as needed.

Anonymous Coward says:

I second that Obama has shown over and over again, where the muzzle the reporters and whistle blowers comes from. Many is the reporter who claims to have gotten a phone call from the president’s staff cussing them out over some unfavorable piece. Several have been removed from the White House News Corp over the same types of news pieces.

You can also see it in action against whistle blowers that make uncomfortable circumstances for the administration. Any POTUS that can claim to have used the Espionage Act more than the entire total of other presidents throughout history of this nation speaks for itself. This is about pettiness, revenge, covering up mistakes and miscalculations, by attempting to intimidate the press and other whistle blowers. This is a president that doesn’t want the uncomfortable job of explaining what went wrong nor taking the blame. It’s always either the previous administration’s fault or someone else.

Anonymous Coward says:

Character witnesses

… it looks like the DOJ just vouched for Risen’s credibility in keeping his sources secret.

You know, that statement you just made worries me. Here’s the DoJ telling everyone, in effect, “You can trust Risen; see, he keeps his mouth shut.”

Makes me think suspicious, paranoid thoughts.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Character witnesses

… there is no communication channel to him…

There’ll be a case officer tasked to him. A handler.

Speculation, of course. But that’s in character for them, isn’t it? They assign handlers, don’t they?

The way I read it, he’s not really conscious yet. So they just gave him a card, with a phone number. Someone he can call, if he ever needs a favor. ‘Cause they’re good guys, you know. It’s just business. No hard feelings, right? Just if you ever need a favor, here’s a phone number on a business card. Have a beer sometime.

But that came later. That came after he nodded yes.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: groomed as FBI informant?

What changed? Maybe Risen finally agreed to become an FBI informant. The FBI has worked for decades to place informants throughout the entire media and news reporting food chain, from bottom to top.

Moles like CBS News vice-president Christopher Isham.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: groomed as FBI informant?

Maybe Risen finally agreed…

So, you’re saying that the deal might have been: Risen confirms the name to DoJ, and they agree not to make him testify to it. Instead they put him back on the street, with no one the wiser.

And, I mean, they already knew the name, didn’t they? I mean Risen is just confirming what DoJ already knows, fer gawds sake. It’s not like he’s really giving up his source. He’s just admitting the obvious. Right? Yeah.

And they put him back on the street. All in all, it’ll even do his reputation a little bit of good, won’t it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Holder is only slightly less credible than dick cheney

Holder the…

Holder the team player. He is a team player, isn’t he? And, after all, in the end, it’s just one big team, isn’t it? Everyone here’s really on the same side. One really big team: Team America.

The champs. The good guys.

Holder the team player. He’s not in it for himself: the perqs just come with the job. Even the criminals believe in this country. What it stands for.

And the team doesn’t blink.

Anonymous Coward says:

would someone explain to me what right the DoJ has to call itself the Department of Justice? there isn’t hardly a single example of anything they are involved in that could be called, by any stretch of the imagination, to do with ‘justice’! everything done is to win, nothing less! it matters not whether what is done is legal, twisted, made up omitted or anything else! they should be ashamed of what they do and how they do it! the government should be similarly ashamed and actually step up to the plate and sort it out!!

Anonymous Coward says:

The nbcnews link has:

“No final decision has been made about exactly how to proceed, the official said, but added the government “will no longer seek what he’s most concerned about revealing.” “

And there must be a reason they don’t need it. So the person involved has already admitted that he gave the information to Risen (or a “journalist”)? Or they have acquired other evidence that the accused was in contact with Risen. Seems to me that is the implication, in which case it will come out at trial, presumably.

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