Risen Refuses to Answer Questions at Pretrial Hearing

Risen Refuses to Answer Questions at Pretrial Hearing January 7, 2015

The DOJ recently said that they were not going to demand that James Risen, a New York Times reporter who did a story based on leaks from the CIA, reveal his sources. But at a pretrial hearing in the case, Risen refused to answer any question that even hinted at information that might be useful to the government.

Monday’s hearing was designed to hammer out ahead of trial exactly what Risen would be willing to answer, and exactly what would be asked of him. The Justice Department, under pressure from free-press advocates, had previously said it would not try to press Risen on whether Sterling was his confidential source, and would limit its questions.

Still, at the outset of Monday’s hearing — which marked Risen’s first actual court appearance in the case despite years of legal wrangling — it appeared Risen was unwilling to answer anything but the most basic questions.

Wearing a pained expression through much of his testimony, Risen acknowledged that he had written certain newspaper articles and “State of War,” and that he had used unnamed sources. But when he was asked whether he had confidentiality agreements with unnamed sources, he refused to answer, even though he had admitted as much in affidavits he had previously sworn out.

“I decline to answer the question. I don’t want to provide information that I believe the government wants to use as a building block … in this case,” Risen said.

Eventually, after Risen consulted with his lawyers, he confirmed that he promised confidentiality to certain sources. He also reiterated to prosecutors that he would not under any circumstances testify about the identity of his sources, or what information came from confidential sources.

Risen was somewhat more cooperative when defense lawyers cross-examined him. Risen acknowledged under cross-examination that, in previous affidavits, he said he made a conscious decision to publish the material in “State of War” because he felt the public had the right to know about a botched intelligence operation, drawing the parallel that bad intelligence about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq had led the country into war.

Given Risen’s uncooperative stance, it will be interesting to see how the DOJ reacts. Will federal prosecutors become more aggressive and threaten him with prison time, something they only recently backed away from doing? Time will tell.

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