The Justice Department will not try to compel New York Times reporter James Risen to testify about his source at an upcoming trial of a former CIA officer accused of leaking classified information, according to a source familiar with the investigation who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The move comes amid harsh criticism from press freedom advocates over the treatment of Risen, who would have faced jail time for contempt had he refused to answer the court’s questions.
Risen has said he was prepared to go to jail to protect the identity of his source.
A federal judge in Virginia had given the Justice Department until next Tuesday to announce whether it would call Risen in the upcoming trial of CIA employee Jeffrey Sterling, who is charged with leaking the classified information.
Federal officials would only ask Risen “to confirm that he had an agreement with a confidential source, and that he did write the book,” a senior Justice Department source told NBC, which first broke the story Friday night.
The government “will no longer seek what he's most concerned about revealing,” according to the report.
Risen wrote “State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration” in 2006. It outlined methods the U.S. government was using to covertly disrupt Iran’s nuclear program.
Risen spoke to Al Jazeera about his case in October. He said that a government’s mistreatment of one journalist has consequences for free press freedom worldwide.
“The message is going out from Washington to the rest of the world that it’s OK to crack down on reporters,” Risen told Al Jazeera.
“And so countries like Egypt are getting that message and I, unfortunately, believe that the way in which the Obama administration has cracked down on press freedom has sent a green light to countries like Egypt that it’s OK to jail reporters.”
Al Jazeera and The Associated Press