msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 8/9/2004 6:07:25 PM ET 2004-08-09T22:07:25

A federal judge has found Time magazine in contempt of court for refusing to answer questions in a special prosecutor’s investigation of whether Bush administration officials illegally leaked the name of a covert CIA operative to the news media.

In court records released Monday, Chief U.S. District Judge Thomas Hogan upheld grand jury subpoenas issued to Time reporter Matt Cooper and NBC News Washington bureau chief Tim Russert.

Hogan ordered Cooper jailed and Time fined $1,000 a day until Cooper answered questions about a conversation he had with an unidentified government official. Hogan stayed the penalties pending appeals.

Hogan ordered Russert to appear but did not take any further steps against him. The ruling against Cooper was more severe because he had formally refused to testify after failing in an effort to have the subpoena quashed. NBC News announced later that it had reached an agreement relieving Russert of any obligation to testify.

Cooper and Russert were the only two journalists known to be among several people subpoenaed to testify by special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, who is trying to find out who revealed the identity of CIA officer Valerie Plame to syndicated columnist Robert Novak last summer.

In the rulings released Monday, Hogan rejected requests by NBC and Time to void the subpoenas on the ground that Russert and Cooper were protected from revealing their sources of information under the First Amendment.

“To be clear, this court holds that Cooper and Russert have no privilege, qualified or otherwise, excusing them from testifying before the grand jury in this matter,” Hogan ruled in the 11-page opinion.

NBC: Russert no longer required to testify
NBC, which has previously said Russert did not receive the leak, said in a statement Monday that Fitzgerald interviewed Russert under oath Saturday about a telephone call he received from I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, in early July 2003. Russert told Fitzgerald that he did not know Plame’s name or that she was a CIA operative and that he did not provide that information to Libby, it said.

NBC stressed that Fitzgerald’s questions “focused on what Mr. Russert said during that conversation” and did not ask Russert to compromise any of the network’s news sources. It said Libby had already told the FBI about the conversation and had formally requested that it be disclosed.

In return, Fitzgerald agreed to submit Russert’s answers to the grand jury without requiring him to appear in person, NBC said.

“In this case, we were able to reach a resolution with the special prosecutor that permitted Tim Russert to answer only limited questions focused on what he said during the telephone conversation without revealing any information he learned in confidence,” said Neal Shapiro, president of NBC News.

(MSNBC is a joint venture of NBC-Universal and Microsoft.)

Bush, Cheney, others questioned
A number of top administration officials have been questioned in the leak investigation, including President Bush, Cheney and Secretary of State Colin Powell.

Plame is the wife of Joseph A. Wilson, a former ambassador who was asked by the CIA to travel to Niger in February 2002 to check reports that Iraq had tried to buy enriched uranium from the African country.

Newspaper columnist Robert Novak disclosed Plame’s identity in July of last year, and Wilson accused the Bush administration of having leaked the information to pay him back for having publicly taken issue with the president’s uranium claim.

The White House subsequently said Bush should not have cited the claim in his 2003 State of the Union address.

Disclosing the identity of a clandestine intelligence officer with intent to cause damage is a federal crime, as is leaking classified information to the media.

Fitzgerald, the U.S. attorney in Chicago, was appointed by the Justice Department late last year as special prosecutor, an announcement made at the same time that Attorney General John Ashcroft stepped aside from the politically charged probe.

MSNBC.com’s Alex Johnson and Reuters contributed to this report.

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