NPR logo Lawyer Says Miller Lost in Court, Won on Principle

Lawyer Says Miller Lost in Court, Won on Principle

New York Times reporter Judith Miller and attorney Floyd Abrams talk to reporters after an appearance at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia in 2004. Yuri Gripas/Reuters/Corbis hide caption

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Yuri Gripas/Reuters/Corbis

First amendment lawyer Floyd Abrams has acknowledged that New York Times reporter Judith Miller and her paper lost at every level of the legal process during their attempts to keep her from testifying in the Valerie Plame leak case.

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But in an interview with NPR, Abrams also argued Miller helped to set a new standard of resisting the government's encroachment on what he says is the vital relationship between reporters and their confidential sources.

Floyd Abrams has been on Miller's legal team throughout her involvement in the Plame leak case. The identity of Plame, an undercover CIA agent, was revealed in a column by Robert Novak, who cited two senior Bush administration officials.

Floyd Abrams Interview

In an interview with NPR's David Folkenflik, attorney Floyd Abrams discusses how Judith Miller ended up testifying about one of her sources.

Extended Abrams Interview (Approx. 30 Minutes)

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Special Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald was appointed to see if a crime was committed. It can be a felony for a government official to knowingly disclose the identity of an undercover American agent. Fitzgerald sought to compel Miller to testify about her confidential source on Plame, even though Miller never wrote about the incident. Other reporters did testify or submit to questions about the government officials they talked to about Plame after getting assurances from sources that they had their permission. The president’s chief political adviser, Karl Rove, and the vice president’s chief of staff, Lewis Libby, were named by reporters.

But Miller resisted cooperating. She said the "waivers" of confidentiality were coerced by President Bush, who demanded all White House staffers sign papers releasing reporters from their promises. Miller served 85 days in a Virginia jail on civil contempt of court charges. Her source was Lewis Libby, the chief of staff to Vice President Richard Cheney. She testified last week only after Libby called her to confirm his agreement. That followed calls from Miller's lawyer — and a letter from Fitzgerald — encouraging Libby to talk to Miller personally.

Abrams says it's a completely subjective conclusion on whether her source's approval for Miller to testify was genuine or forced.