After years of legal wrangling and public feuding over whether New York Times reporter James Risen would be compelled to testify in a leak trial that threatened to compromise a confidential source, the Justice Department said on Monday it would not call Risen to testify at the trial of former CIA officer Jeffrey Sterling. Sterling, whose trial is set to begin on Tuesday, is charged with leaking Risen details about a botched operation to sabotage Iran’s nuclear program that were included in the journalist’s 2006 book State of War.
After multiple efforts to compel the two-time Pulitzer winner to testify—first in 2008 during the Bush administration and again in 2011 under Obama—“the effort to obtain Mr. Risen’s testimony came to symbolize the Obama administration’s effort to crack down on government officials who talk to reporters about security matters,” the New York Times writes.
In a pretrial hearing earlier this month, Risen said he would not answer questions that could jeopardize his source. The Justice Department under Attorney General Eric Holder faced increasing criticism for a series of moves that targeted journalists in its attempt to crack down on government officials leaking sensitive information. “[T]he crackdown provoked a backlash among journalism groups and civil rights advocates, and as Mr. Risen’s case dragged on, Mr. Holder, who has announced plans to leave office, signaled a change in policy,” according to the Times. “He rewrote the Justice Department’s rules for subpoenaing journalists and said he would not try to put reporters in jail for doing their jobs.”