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Jailed Journalist Testifies

September 30, 2005 at 12:00 AM EDT


JUDITH MILLER: Oh, boy, am I happy to be free.

TERENCE SMITH: These are the first public words New York Times reporter Judith Miller has had to say since going to jail 85 days ago for civil contempt of court for refusing to testify before a grand jury and disclose her source. For three hours this morning beyond closed doors, Miller testified before a federal grand jury, ending her silence in the investigation into whether White House officials leaked the name of a covert CIA operative, Valerie Plame Wilson. Miller testified as part of an agreement reached Thursday with special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald to disclose her conversations in July 2003 with Vice President Cheney’s chief of staff, Lewis “Scooter” Libby.

JUDITH MILLER: Recently, I heard directly from my source that I should testify before the grand jury. This was in the form of a personal letter and, most important, a telephone conversation, a telephone call to me at the jail. I concluded from this that my source genuinely wanted me to testify.

TERENCE SMITH: Libby’s lawyer said today in a statement that he and his client had released Miller long ago to testify and were surprised when Miller’s lawyers asked again for a release in the last few weeks. Until a few months ago, the White House maintained for nearly two years that presidential aide Karl Rove and Libby were not involved in leaking the identity of Valerie Plame Wilson, whose husband had publicly challenged the Bush administration’s credibility in the run-up to the war in Iraq. Miller would not comment on what she told the grand jury today. She focused instead on why she went to jail.

JUDITH MILLER: I served 85 days in jail because I believed in the importance of upholding the confidential relationship journalists have with their sources. I am hopeful that my very stay in jail will serve to strengthen the bond between reporters and their sources.

TERENCE SMITH: The federal grand jury is due to expire Oct. 28. Miller would have been freed at that time, but prosecutors could have pursued a criminal contempt of court charge.

TERENCE SMITH: Joining me now to review developments in the investigation is Carol Leonnig, a Washington Post reporter who has been following this case. Carol, welcome to the broadcast.

CAROL LEONNIG: Thank you, Terry.

TERENCE SMITH: Judy Miller testified for nearly three hours today in front of the grand jury. What have you been able to learn about her testimony?

CAROL LEONNIG: Well, as you know, Judy Miller declined to answer any questions about her testimony. However, we do have some sources some information, some of it comes, actually, from people familiar with Lewis Libby’s account of their conversations in July of 2003 that are at the center of what the special prosecutor wants to know. If Judy’s account matches with Mr. Libby’s, they met twice — I’m sorry, they met once on July 8 and they had a telephone conversation on July 12 or 13, and in both cases they discussed Wilson, Ambassador Wilson, who was then a very public critic, had just published a large op-ed piece in the New York Times questioning the Bush administration and saying that they had twisted intelligence about uranium and Iraq to justify the war. There were a lot of people very concerned about any criticism of this claim. And one of them was Scooter Libby, Vice President Cheney’s chief of staff.

TERENCE SMITH: Well, can you explain why Judy Miller was able to reach an agreement and go ahead and testify today after 85 days in jail when Scooter Libby’s attorney says that more than a year ago they provided a waiver and told her to go ahead? What changed? Why now?

CAROL LEONNIG: There is a lot of consternation and speculation about just that. Cynics and even legal experts have said that Miller could have testified in July and avoided going to jail based on Mr. Libby’s lawyer’s insistence that this was a personal un-coerced waiver and that she was released from her promise of confidentiality to the chief of staff.

Others have said that there’s another motive underneath this. People familiar with Miller and her defense team that are close to the defense have said that she and her lawyers were really quite concerned that Fitzgerald, the special prosecutor, Patrick Fitzgerald, was very thorough, had a reputation as dogged, was not going to give up and might have asked for her to be jailed for another 60 days.

TERENCE SMITH: And so this might have gone on and she might have remained in jail?

CAROL LEONNIG: Exactly. And that would certainly turn up the heat to strike a deal, get a more specific waiver, and be released. And, you know, in the footnotes of legal filings, Fitzgerald did indirectly threaten this by mentioning his authority to seek additional grand jury time and to request that a judge have her detained if she continued to refuse to discuss the conversation she had with her source.

TERENCE SMITH: And I believe the possibility of changing this to a criminal contempt citation, a much more serious charge with a potential for a jail term was out there as well.

CAROL LEONNIG: Yes, absolutely. Thank you for reminding me. That was out there, although what I heard from lawyers close to Miller was that they were less concerned about that and more concerned about additional jail time.

TERENCE SMITH: All right. Well, let’s take this beyond Judy Miller here. What — is there evidence that this much-sought-after testimony moved the investigation forward?

CAROL LEONNIG: It’s not clear at this time. But remember that Mr. Fitzgerald has said for now going on ten months that the last two people he needed to talk to and interview and question before the grand jury were Matt Cooper of Time Magazine and Judy Miller of the New York Times. Presumably, Fitzgerald is done; unless he learned something unusual, unexpected, dramatic from Judy Miller’s testimony today, she’s the last person he needs to talk to and we should expect to see some sort of action on Fitzgerald’s part in the near future, an indictment, a plea agreement, a report or a conclusion that his investigation has exonerated any senior Bush administration officials from breaking the law in the potential leak of this operative’s name.

TERENCE SMITH: Right. Because in this investigation, testimony has been taken, has it not, from Karl Rove, from Scooter Libby, from the president, from the vice president, any number of very senior people.

CAROL LEONNIG: Colin Powell, Condi Rice, a lot of people.

TERENCE SMITH: Right. And it’s gone on for how long?

CAROL LEONNIG: Two years now. It will be two years exactly in another two months.

TERENCE SMITH: One question that comes up repeatedly is whether or not the columnist, Robert Novak, has been called to testify or answer the prosecutors’ questions. Do you know now whether it has? In the past he’s declined to say one way or the other.

CAROL LEONNIG: I don’t know definitively, Terry, but the sources that I’ve talked to say that he began cooperating early in this investigation and had –didn’t take the fifth, didn’t try to strike any deal with the prosecutor but told the prosecutor what he knew.

TERENCE SMITH: All right. And so now you would expect these developments from — from the prosecutor in what sort of time frame?

CAROL LEONNIG: Well, remember the grand jury’s term expires Oct. 28, again with the caveat that he hasn’t learned anything dramatically knew from Judy Miller, as he said he did when he interviewed Matt Cooper last year — assuming that, some time before the middle of November.

TERENCE SMITH: All right. Carol Leonnig, thank you very much for filling us in. We appreciate it.