Profile: Floyd Abrams
Floyd Abrams was a participant or observer in the following events:
Don Black, the white supremacist who runs the racist Web site Stormfront.org (see March 1995), appears on ABC News’s Nightline, along with host Ted Koppel and First Amendment advocate Floyd Abrams, a prominent lawyer. Black is introduced as “a former member of the Ku Klux Klan.” During the interview, Black strives to give the appearance of a moderate, thoughtful person who does not espouse racial hatred, and explains that through Stormfront, he has “recruited people” via the Internet whom he “otherwise wouldn’t have reached.” He also says that sites such as Stormfront “provide those people who are attracted to our ideas with a forum to talk to each other and to form a virtual community.” Black says his views are entirely reasonable: “You may consider my views dangerous, but so were those of the Founding Fathers, who were considered dangerous. In fact, their views… weren’t that much different from my own.… Fifty, 60, 70 years ago, what I’m saying was part of the mainstream.” In the days after the interview, Black will claim a 400 percent increase in visitors to his site. [Anti-Defamation League, 1998]
The grand jury investigating the leak of CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson’s covert identity (see December 30, 2003) subpoenas Time reporter Matthew Cooper and NBC’s Tim Russert, host of “Meet the Press.” Time and NBC both say they will fight the subpoenas (see May 13-20, 2004, June 2004 and August 9, 2004). NBC says the subpoenas could have a “chilling effect” on its ability to report the news. NBC president Neal Shapiro says, “Sources will simply stop speaking with the press if they fear those conversations will become public.” Cooper’s lawyer, Floyd Abrams, says, “Rounding up the Washington press corps doesn’t seem the most likely way to find out about sources.” Time vice president Robin Bierstedt says that the magazine has a strict policy of protecting “its confidential sources.” First Amendment lawyer Devereux Chatillon comments, “Subpoenas to the press at all, much less for confidential sources, are extremely unusual, certainly from the federal government. Without protection for confidential sources, the press cannot report effectively on things like the Abu Ghraib scandal.” [New York Times, 5/23/2003; Washington Post, 5/22/2004; United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, 12/8/2004 ; Supreme Court of the United States, 5/2005; Washington Post, 7/3/2007]
US District Court Judge Thomas Hogan, presiding over the grand jury investigation of the Valerie Plame Wilson identity leak (see December 30, 2003), rejects arguments that the First Amendment protects reporters from either Time or NBC News from testifying in the investigation. Hogan cites the 1972 Supreme Court case, Branzberg v. Hayes, in his ruling. In Branzberg, the Court ruled that “we cannot accept the argument that the public interest in possible future news about crime… must take precedence over the public interest in pursuing and prosecuting those crimes.” Hogan finds Time reporter Matthew Cooper (see May 21, 2004) in contempt of court. He also finds Time itself in contempt, and fines the magazine $1,000 a day until Cooper complies with a subpoena for his testimony. The ruling was written on July 20, but only issued today. “The information requested,” Hogan explains in his decision, “is very limited, all available means of obtaining the information have been exhausted, the testimony sought is necessary for completion of the investigation, and the testimony sought is expected to constitute direct evidence of innocence or guilt.” Cooper’s employer, Time magazine, will appeal Hogan’s ruling, but many believe the appeals court will not overturn it. “I think we’re going to have a head-on confrontation here,” says Lucy Dalglish, executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. “I think Matt Cooper is going to jail.” Cooper’s lawyer Floyd Abrams says: “[Cooper’s] story was essentially critical of the administration for leaking information designed to focus the public away from what Ambassador [Joseph] Wilson [Plame Wilson’s husband] was saying was true and toward personal things. That sort of story, about potential government misuse of power, is precisely the sort of thing that is impossible to do without the benefit of confidential sources.” [New York Times, 8/10/2004; Washington Post, 8/10/2004; Washington Post, 7/3/2007] NBC reporter Tim Russert, also subpoenaed, did not contest the subpoena; the press learns today that he has already testified before the grand jury (see August 7, 2004 and August 9, 2004). Observers believe that prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald is preparing to use Hogan’s ruling to compel the testimony of two other reporters, Robert Novak (see July 14, 2003) and Walter Pincus (see August 9, 2004). One defense lawyer involved in the case says Hogan’s ruling gives Fitzgerald significant leverage to compel testimony from Novak and Pincus. “This is now open season on these reporters,” he says. The court’s ruling establishes unequivocally that “in a grand jury context, reporters don’t have a privilege.” NBC News president Neal Shapiro says, “Compelling reporters to reveal their newsgathering to government investigators is, in our view, contrary to the First Amendment’s guarantee of a free press.” Dalglish says Fitzgerald should be focusing on prying information from Bush administration officials rather than reporters. Referring to administration officials, Dalglish says, “You just can’t tell me none of the people appearing before the grand jury knows who the leaker was.” [Washington Post, 8/10/2004]
Entity Tags: Neal Shapiro, Joseph C. Wilson, Floyd Abrams, Bush administration (43), Lucy Dalglish, NBC News, Time magazine, Matthew Cooper, Walter Pincus, Tim Russert, Robert Novak, Valerie Plame Wilson, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, Thomas Hogan
Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
The grand jury investigating the leak of Valerie Plame Wilson’s covert CIA identity (see December 30, 2003) subpoenas New York Times reporter Judith Miller to testify. The Times says it will fight the subpoena. [US District Court for the District of Columbia, 8/12/2004 ; Washington Post, 7/3/2007]
Unusual Negotiations between Lawyers - The subpoena will open a lengthy and sometimes puzzling set of negotiations between lawyers for Miller and her source, White House aide Lewis “Scooter” Libby. Miller refuses to divulge the identity of her source or the contents of their conversations (see June 23, 2003, 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003, and Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003). But she sends her lawyer, Floyd Abrams, to talk to Libby’s lawyer, Joseph Tate, to see if Libby will approve of her testimony. According to Abrams and others involved in the negotiations, Tate initially tells Abrams that Miller is free to testify. However, Abrams will say, Tate says that Libby never told Miller the name or the undercover status of Plame Wilson. This raises a conflict for Miller: her notes clearly indicate that she was told three times about Plame Wilson’s identity. If she testifies, she will contradict Libby’s own accounts of their conversations.
Libby Attempting to Influence Miller? - Miller decides that Libby is sending her a signal not to testify. She will later recalls Abrams’s recounting of his conversation with Tate: “He was pressing about what you would say. When I wouldn’t give him an assurance that you would exonerate Libby, if you were to cooperate, he then immediately gave me this, ‘Don’t go there, or, we don’t want you there.’” Abrams himself will recall: “On more than one occasion, Mr. Tate asked me for a recitation of what Ms. Miller would say. I did not provide one.” (Tate will angrily dispute both Abrams’s and Miller’s recollections, saying: “I never once suggested that she should not testify. It was just the opposite. I told Mr. Abrams that the waiver was voluntary.… ‘Don’t go there’ or ‘We don’t want you there’ is not something I said, would say, or ever implied or suggested.”) Miller’s executive editor, Bill Keller, will later say that Miller believed Libby feared her testimony. “Judy believed Libby was afraid of her testimony,” he will recall. “She thought Libby had reason to be afraid of her testimony.” Because of these reasons, Miller will decide not to further pursue the idea of a waiver from Libby that would allow her to testify about their conversations. For over a year, the two sides do not speak to one another. “I interpreted the silence as, ‘Don’t testify,’” Miller will later say. Tate will counter that he never understood why Miller or Abrams wanted to discuss the matter further. [New York Times, 10/16/2005]
McClellan: Fighting to Protect Partisan Government Leakers - In 2008, one-time White House press secretary Scott McClellan will write of Miller and fellow journalist Matthew Cooper, also battling a subpoena (see August 9, 2004): “Of course, there was a curious twist to the defense used by Cooper and Miller. By refusing to divulge the names of their sources in the leak case, the two reporters were not protecting courageous whistle-blowers revealing government wrongdoing in the public interest. Rather, they were shielding government officials whom administration critics believed had used leaks as weapons of partisan warfare. It was hard for some in the public, and especially those critical of the administration, to see this as an act of journalism.… This episode… seemed to confirm for at least some administration critics that reporters were no longer heroic figures, but were now participating in the same partisan warfare they created.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 256]
Miller, Abrams, and Cooper speak to reporters during the Libby investigation. [Source: Life magazine]Judith Miller, the New York Times reporter held in contempt for failing to obey a subpoena to testify before the Patrick Fitzgerald grand jury investigating the Plame Wilson identity leak (see October 7, 2004), tells her husband that she may go to jail. “Something bad is happening,” Miller tells Jason Epstein, her husband and a founder of the New York Review of Books. “I think I might be going to jail.” Epstein replies, “Going to jail—that can’t be right.” Miller says, “That is where this is going to lead.” Trying to lighten the mood, Epstein retorts, “Well, if that’s the case, get a lawyer from the Yellow Pages so it won’t cost so much.” Miller says she already has a lawyer, renowned First Amendment advocate Floyd Abrams. With another lawyer, Abrams had represented the Times in the Pentagon Papers case of 1971 (see June 15, 1971), and he helped to forge case law protecting journalists from being compelled to reveal their sources. Abrams is already representing another Times reporter, Philip Shenon, against Fitzgerald in the case of Shenon’s reporting on an FBI raid of two Muslim charities accused of supporting terrorism (see December 3-14, 2001). He is also defending two more Times reporters, James Risen and Jeff Gerth, in a privacy lawsuit filed by nuclear scientist Wen Ho Lee, who is accusing the reporters of inaccurate and defamatory reporting. And he is representing Time Magazine reporter Matthew Cooper, who is also facing a subpoena from the Fitzgerald investigation (see October 13, 2004). Abrams has asked Fitzgerald to steer clear of subpoenaing reporters such as Miller and Cooper, fearing the effect those subpoenas might have on investigative reporting if successful. Fitzgerald told Abrams that he had thought through the issue, and was prepared to compel their testimony through the entire judicial system. [Vanity Fair, 4/2006]
A day before New York Times reporter Judith Miller is scheduled to testify before the grand jury investigating the Plame Wilson identity leak (see September 30, 2005), Miller’s attorney, Floyd Abrams, writes a letter to Lewis Libby’s attorney, Joseph Tate, alleging that Tate had repeatedly made comments to him that may have been intended to discourage Miller from testifying. Miller is expected to provide testimony that will contradict Libby, the former chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, who has testified that he never provided Valerie Plame Wilson’s identity as a CIA agent to Miller (see June 23, 2003, 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003, and Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003). Miller was concerned that Libby would not provide her with a specific waiver of confidentiality, without which she was unwilling to testify. Libby had signed a general waiver provided by special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald, but Miller did not consider that as enough of a release from her obligation to protect him, her source. Miller has said that she spent 85 days in jail (see July 6, 2005) because Tate told her that the general waiver was not given freely. Libby provided her with a specific waiver two weeks ago (see September 15, 2005). Abrams writes that Tate told him that the general waiver was “by its nature coerced and had been required as a condition for Mr. Libby’s continued employment at the White House.” Abrams writes in part: “In our [various] conversations… you did not say that Mr. Libby’s waiver was uncoerced. In fact, you said quite the opposite. You told me that the signed waiver was by its nature coerced and had been required as a condition for Mr. Libby’s continued employment at the White House. You compared the coercion to that inherent in the effective bar imposed upon the White House employees asserting the Fifth Amendment. A failure by your client to sign the written waiver, you explained, like any assertion of your client of the Fifth Amendment, would result in his dismissal. You persuasively mocked the notion that any waiver signed under such circumstances could be deemed voluntary.” Tate says that Abrams’s claims are “outrageous” and “factually incorrect,” and that neither he nor Libby has said or done anything to discourage Miller from testifying or to influence any testimony she might give. Abrams says that Tate provided him with some information from Libby’s previous testimony to the grand jury (see March 5, 2004 and March 24, 2004), and attempted to find out from him what Miller might testify to. He says he refused to provide Tate with any such information. Miller has also written that Tate expressely asked her not to “go there” when she refused to say that her testimony would exonerate Libby, but other sources have said Tate did not say anything of that nature to her. [National Journal, 10/18/2005]
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