WASHINGTON — The new chairman of the House Judiciary Committee yesterday
called on Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to stop trying to compel two San
Francisco Chronicle reporters to identify the source who leaked confidential
grand jury testimony in the steroid abuse investigation.
A federal judge has already ordered reporters Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance
Williams jailed until they comply with government subpoenas demanding detailed
information about how they obtained the grand jury testimony of baseball stars
Barry Bonds, Jason Giambi and others. The reporters have remained free while the
9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals considers the case.
"The issuance of these subpoenas appears to run directly counter to the
protections afforded to the press under the First Amendment," Conyers, D-Mich.
said in a speech at the National Press Club in Washington. "It is not just about
a single case. We in the Congress need to examine the effect of these aggressive
new prosecutorial tactics."
Conyers sent a letter to Gonzales asking the attorney general to withdraw the
subpoenas. Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va., also signed the letter.
"Like most Americans, we have watched with great concern as the Department of
Justice issued grand jury subpoenas to the reporters and their newspaper to
learn the identities of their confidential sources on some of the most
significant reporting in the history of professional sports," Conyers and Davis
wrote. "We write to you now to express my deep concern over the issuance of
these subpoenas and to urge you to withdraw them."
Davis, as chair of the House Government Reform Committee, held a steroids
hearing in March 2005, when the witnesses included former baseball players Mark
McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro and Jose Canseco. Davis was one of a handful of
representatives and senators who sponsored bills proposing to mandate stronger
steroid testing and penalties for U.S. pro sports.
A DOJ spokesman didn't return a telephone call. In court filings, prosecutors
asked the San Francisco-based appeals court to uphold a judge's contempt order
against Fainaru-Wada and Williams, arguing that reporters do not have special
privileges that allow them to keep evidence from a grand jury.
The appeals court is expected to hear the reporters' appeal sometime in
March, though an exact date hasn't been set.
Meanwhile, the federal prosecutor who has led the BALCO investigation has announced he’s stepping down.
Kevin Ryan, who was appointed as U.S. attorney for California’s Northern District in 2002, did not give a date for his last day on the job.
Ryan is one of 11 top federal prosecutors who have resigned or announced their resignations since an obscure provision in the USA Patriot Act reauthorization last year enabled the U.S. attorney general to appoint replacements without Senate confirmation.