Govt Asks to Keep Risen Grand Jury Material Sealed

07.07.11 | 2 min read | Text by Steven Aftergood

Government attorneys yesterday told a federal court that most of last year’s grand jury proceedings in which New York Times reporter James Risen was subpoenaed to testify should remain secret in the public interest.  The grand jury subpoena against Risen was ultimately quashed in a November 30, 2010 order (pdf) that was unsealed last week.

In a separate court order (pdf) last week, Judge Leonie M. Brinkema had asked the government to review Mr. Risen’s prior motion to quash the grand jury subpoena and the government motions filed in response, and to advise whether it would agree to have all of those grand jury pleadings unsealed and released in redacted, declassified form.  Doing so, she said, would help to inform the current prosecution of former CIA officer Jeffrey Sterling, in which Mr. Risen has again been subpoenaed.

“Given the significant legal issues raised in these pleadings and their relevance to the publicly filed case against Jeffrey Sterling, the public interest in access is strong and any further sealing should be kept to a minimum,” Judge Brinkema wrote on June 28.

The government attorneys yesterday rejected that view.

“The government has reviewed the grand jury pleadings, and respectfully believes that the need for grand jury secrecy continues to outweigh any public interest in disclosure,” they wrote (pdf).

Disclosure of the pleadings is unnecessary, they said, since “the legal issues raised in the grand jury pleadings are currently being litigated publicly through the government’s motion in limine (pdf) and James Risen’s motion to quash the issuance of a trial subpoena served upon him. The unsealing of this Court’s November 2010 Memorandum Opinion more than suffices to inform the public about the grand jury proceedings and puts the current litigation involving the trial subpoena issued to Risen in its proper context,” the July 6 response said.

Moreover, “unsealing all of the grand jury pleadings relating to the motion to quash carries considerable risks. Many indicted cases involve pre-indictment litigation that presents unique and significant legal issues, but such a rationale is not sufficient to overcome the strong public policy interests in secrecy. To allow the unsealing of grand jury pleadings on that basis alone would discourage prospective witnesses from testifying fully and freely before future grand juries. No witness would ever know if his or her testimony was associated with a future, significant legal issue and thus subject to disclosure,” the government response said.

Today, attorneys argued before Judge Brinkema over the current subpoena for Mr. Risen in the ongoing case of Jeffrey Sterling.  Prosecutors suggested that a failure to compel Mr. Risen to testify might force an acquittal of Mr. Sterling, reported Josh Gerstein in Politico.