Washington Times reporter Bill Gertz was subpoenaed by a federal court last month to testify regarding his sources for a 2006 story relating to alleged Chinese espionage.
While Mr. Gertz has been a prolific reporter of classified information for two decades and has even republished classified documents in his books, his current legal entanglement arises not from national security secrecy but from grand jury secrecy.
A court found that Mr. Gertz had disclosed secret grand jury information pertaining to the trial of Chi Mak and others who were accused and later convicted of illegal exports of defense technology to China.
“During the course of proceedings in this case, Washington Times reporter Bill Gertz authored a May 16, 2006 article that revealed secret information before a grand jury,” wrote Judge Cormac J. Carney in a May 1, 2008 Order (pdf).
Judge Carney noted that the Government had conducted a year-long investigation of the matter and interviewed “over 500 persons of interest” without being able to identify the source of the grand jury leak.
“Accordingly, the Court finds it necessary to subpoena Mr. Gertz to testify regarding the identity of the source that provided him with the grand jury information,” the Judge wrote.
In a robustly argued response (pdf) on June 5, attorneys for Mr. Gertz urged the Court to withdraw the subpoena.
Mr. Gertz’s story, they said, had not actually revealed “matters occurring before the Grand Jury.” Rather, he had reported on the intentions of prosecutors and relied on non-Grand Jury sources, including public statements by prosecutors. In support of their position, they cited a ruling in U.S.A. v. Rosen (the “AIPAC” case) in which the Court had declined to find a violation of grand jury secrecy under somewhat similar circumstances.
“There is simply no evidence contained in the record proving, or even tending to prove, that actual Grand Jury information was disclosed to Mr. Gertz.”
Along with other factual and legal arguments, Mr. Gertz’s attorneys also asserted a First Amendment privilege on his behalf. The subpoena, including the command for Mr. Gertz to testify, “is unreasonable and oppressive,” they concluded.
Mr. Gertz had been ordered to appear in court in Santa Ana, California on Friday, June 13, but that date has been postponed.
Mr. Gertz is represented by attorneys Siobhan Cullen, Allen Farber, and Charles Leeper of Drinker, Biddle & Reath. That law firm is probably famous for other things, but it is best known to Secrecy News for representing the plaintiffs in the 1953 Reynolds case that established the state secrets privilege in the U.S. Supreme Court, and also for attempting to re-open the case fifty years later on grounds that a fraud had been committed upon the Court.