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Conyers to DOJ: Quit pursuit of BALCO journalists' source

By The Associated Press
01.19.07

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.


Update
Source steps up, lets BALCO reporters off legal hook
Attorney to plead guilty to disclosing secret testimony; if approved, deal means journalists won't face prison time. 02.15.07

Previous
Chronicle agrees to be held in contempt in Bonds leak case
Under proposed deal that would allow case to proceed to 9th Circuit, government also agrees to stay fines pending outcome of appeal. 10.20.06

Related

Federal judge asks reporter to appear in pharmaceutical case

Court invites New York Times' Alex Berenson to appear voluntarily to explain how he got sealed documents related to anti-psychotic drug Zyprexa. 02.01.07

Calif. videographer becomes longest jailed journalist
Joshua Wolf spends 169th day in jail, surpassing stint of Vanessa Leggett, who served more than five months for refusing to reveal unpublished material about murder case. 02.07.07

Ongoing confidential-sources cases
By Bill Kenworthy Compilation tracking current cases involving efforts to force journalists to disclose confidential sources. 08.04.05

Congressmen’s letter a refreshing defense of press freedom
By Gene Policinski Democrat, Republican co-sign request to Justice Department to stop trying to force San Francisco Chronicle reporters to reveal sources in steroids trial. 01.28.07

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