A federal judge ruled Friday that a New York Times reporter must testify at the trial of a former CIA officer charged with leaking classified information about Iran, but limited the scope of what the journalist could be asked about.
Prosecutors have subpoenaed Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter James Risen to testify at the September trial of Jeffrey Sterling, an ex-CIA officer from Missouri. Risen's lawyers had argued that the First Amendment should shield him from having to testify about his sources.
On Friday, U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema said Risen must testify at the trial. But she ruled that his testimony be limited to four topics.
Those topics are that he wrote an article or book chapter; that they are accurate; that statements referred to in Risen's newspaper article or book chapter as being made by an unnamed source were in fact made to Risen by an unnamed source; and that statements referred to as being made by an identified source were in fact made by that identified source.
The government alleges Sterling was a key source for a chapter in Risen's 2006 book "State of War," which details a botched CIA effort during the Clinton administration, dubbed Operation Merlin, to thwart Iran's nuclear ambitions by secretly giving the Iranians intentionally flawed blueprints through a Russian intermediary.
"This is an important victory for the First Amendment and investigative reporters everywhere," Risen's lawyer Joel Kurtzberg said Friday evening, referring to the limits on what Risen can be asked to testify about.
Last year, Brinkema quashed a similar subpoena issued to Risen when the case was in front of a grand jury. She ruled that the government simply didn't need Risen's testimony to obtain an indictment in light of other evidence possessed by the government, including phone records showing multiple calls between Risen and Sterling.
Prosecutors had argued that Risen's First Amendment rights paled in comparison to the government's need to prosecute criminals and obtain evidence to which juries are rightfully entitled.
A spokesman for the Justice Department did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.