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Judge Upholds Media Subpoenas in CIA Leak Case

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A federal judge ordered a reporter held for civil contempt on Monday and ruled that journalists at NBC News and Time magazine must testify in the investigation into whether the Bush administration illegally leaked a covert CIA officer's name to the media.

U.S. District Chief Judge Thomas Hogan rejected requests to quash subpoenas to Tim Russert of NBC's "Meet the Press" and Matthew Cooper of Time magazine for violating their First Amendment rights.

The subpoenas, issued by special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, require that Russert and Cooper appear before a federal grand jury to testify about conversations with an unidentified government official who was a confidential source.

In an order on Monday, Hogan said Cooper and Time at a hearing on Friday refused to comply with the subpoena despite his ruling and he held them in civil contempt of court. The ruling was dated July 20, but released on Monday.

The reporter was ordered "confined at a suitable place" and Time was fined $1,000 a day until they complied. The judge did not specify where Cooper would be confined.

Hogan stayed Time's fine and granted Cooper bail while they appeal the contempt finding to the U.S. appeals court. He said the appeals presented "substantial legal questions."

Citing a 1972 Supreme Court ruling, Hogan said a reporter called to testify before a grand jury about confidential information enjoyed no First Amendment protection.

"The information requested from Mr. Cooper and Mr. Russert is very limited, all available alternative means of obtaining the information have been exhausted, the testimony sought is necessary for the completion of the investigation and the testimony sought is expected to constitute direct evidence of innocence or guilt," Hogan wrote.

NO REPORTERS' PRIVILEGE

He ruled that Cooper and Russert have no reporters' privilege, qualified or otherwise, that would excuse them from testifying before the grand jury.

"There have been no allegations whatsoever that this grand jury is acting in bad faith or with the purpose of harassing these two journalists," the judge concluded.

A number of top administration officials have been questioned in the leak investigation, including President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of State Colin Powell.

The grand jury has been hearing testimony in an attempt to establish who leaked the name of CIA operative Valerie Plame to the media last year.

Plame is the wife of Joe Wilson, a former ambassador who was asked by the CIA to travel to Niger in February 2002 to check reports that Iraq had tried to buy enriched uranium from the African country.

A newspaper columnist disclosed Plame's identity in July last year and Wilson accused the Bush administration of having leaked the information to pay him back for having publicly taken issue with the president's uranium claim.

The White House subsequently said Bush should not have cited the claim in his 2003 State of the Union address.

Disclosing the identity of a clandestine intelligence officer is a federal crime as is leaking classified information to the media.

Fitzgerald, the U.S. attorney in Chicago, was appointed by the Justice Department late last year as special prosecutor, an announcement made at the same time that Attorney General John Ashcroft stepped aside from the politically charged probe. 

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