(Politico) – A federal jury’s decision Monday to convict a former CIA officer for leaking top-secret information to a New York Times reporter was a big win for prosecutors — and for Attorney General Eric Holder’s new approach to handling sensitive cases involving journalists.
Holder decided to spare the reporter in the case, New York Times correspondent James Risen, from testifying against his sources. The move could become an important part of the soon-to-depart attorney general’s legacy and a guidepost for future government leak cases given that the government won the case without much testimony from the reporter who received the information.
Holder and his allies are arguing that they have helped secure journalists’ First Amendment rights with the maneuver, but whistleblower advocates worry that the prison time ex-CIA officer Jeffrey Sterling is facing in the wake of the trial will wind up silencing federal employees seeking to expose government malfeasance or ineptitude.
Holder perplexed and irritated many Justice Department lawyers with his decision last month effectively taking Risen’s testimony off the table after a seven-year court fight in which the government defeated Risen’s claims that reporter’s privilege protected him from testifying against Sterling.