Attorney General Eric Holder has decided against forcing a reporter for the New York Times to reveal the identity of a confidential source, according to a senior Justice Department official.
The reporter, James Risen, has been battling for years to stop prosecutors from forcing him to name his source for a book that revealed a CIA effort to sabotage Iran's nuclear weapons program.
The government wanted Risen's testimony in the trial of a former CIA official, Jeffrey Sterling, accused of leaking classified information.
But now, according to the Justice Department official, Holder has directed that Risen must not be required to reveal "information about the identity of his source."
If the government subpoenas Risen to require any of his testimony, the official said, "it would be to confirm that he had an agreement with a confidential source, and that he did write the book."
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."
The decision ends months of internal debate about how aggressive prosecutors should be in seeking Risen's testimony. The federal judge overseeing the case, Leonie Brinkema of Alexandria, Virginia, gave the government until next Tuesday to declare how much he would be required to reveal in court.
Holder had earlier signaled he might decline to force Risen to reveal a source, telling a group of news media executives earlier this year that "As long as I am attorney general, no reporter who is doing his job is going to jail."
Without Holder's decision, Risen would have faced the difficult decision between revealing a source or facing possible jail time for contempt of court.