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Jailed reporter seeks law to protect sources

Urged Congress to protect journalists from having to reveal confidential sources

WASHINGTON – New York Times reporter Judith Miller, jailed 85 days for refusing to testify in a federal probe that now threatens the White House, urged Congress on Wednesday to protect journalists from having to reveal confidential sources.

«I hope you will agree that an uncoerced, uncoercible press, though at times irritating, is vital to the perpetuation of the freedom and democracy we so often take for granted,» Miller told the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Proposed legislation, opposed by the Bush administration, would allow reporters to shield sources in most cases. Thirty-one states and the District of Columbia have such shield laws, and efforts to obtain a federal one have gained traction largely because of Miller’s case.

Committee Chairman Arlen Specter, a Pennsylvania Republican, said at the close of the hearing, «I believe we need a statute.»

But Chuck Rosenberg, U.S. attorney in Texas, said the bill before the panel «would create serious impediments to the (Justice) Department’s ability to enforce the law, fight terrorism and protect national security.»

Miller spent nearly three months in jail before obtaining additional assurances from her source, Lewis «Scooter» Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, that she could testify about their conversations before a federal grand jury examining the leak of the identity of CIA operative Valerie Plame.

Miller was jailed even though she never wrote a story about Plame. She testified twice before the grand jury after her release.

The leak investigation has ensnarled White House political adviser Karl Rove as well as Libby. The White House had long maintained the two had nothing to do with the leak but reporters have since named them as sources.

Plame’s diplomat husband, Joseph Wilson, has charged that the administration had leaked her name to get back at him for criticizing President George W. Bush’s Iraq policy.

Miller, who was jailed at the Alexandria Detention Facility in Virginia, told the Senate panel: «Journalists are increasingly being subjected to federal subpoenas» since the September 11, 2001, attacks.

«More than two dozen reporters have been subpoenaed in the past two years and are in danger of going to jail,» Miller said. «If the current trend prevails, the Alexandria Detention Facility may have to open an entire new wing to house reporters.»