It may be time for the New York Times reporters on the Anthony Pellicano beat to lawyer up.
At a hearing on the case in federal court Monday, the lead prosecutor, Assistant U.S. Attorney Dan Saunders, complained about several Times stories that have relied on FBI interview summaries and said, “The Dept. of Justice is conducting a separate investigation.”
Should the media get dragged into the Pellicano saga, it would be in keeping with a recent trend of heightened government scrutiny of how reporters get classified information.
But while the Times and other outlets have been eager to go to the First Amendment mat in national security matters, it remains to be seen how firm their resolve will be in the investigation of a private eye.
Steven Gruel, attorney for Pellicano, said in court that he understands the U.S. Attorney’s Office in San Diego is handling the investigation. A rep for Carol C. Lam, the interim U.S. Attorney in San Diego, had no comment on the leak probe.
The Times did not return several calls requesting comment.
The New York Times saw reporter Judith Miller serve jail time for refusing to discuss her sources in the investigation of who blew the cover of CIA agent Valerie Plame. Similarly, the Justice Dept. launched an investigation into who told the Times about a wide-ranging surveillance program run by the National Security Agency.
Incidentally, the Times did not send either David Halbfinger or Allison Hope Weiner, the paper’s two lead reporters on the Pellicano scandal, to cover Monday’s hearing.
More immediately in the Pellicano case, Saunders said he wanted the prosecution to stop turning over sensitive material to defense attorneys. “At this point, we have no confidence that it won’t end up on the front page of the newspaper.”
Judge Dale S. Fischer declined to issue an order in the case before seeing filed motions, but she seemed sympathetic to the prosecution’s request, asking that no further information be disclosed to the defense until after the next hearing in the case, skedded for May 22.
The FBI interview summaries were handed over to the defense teams April 5 after all parties in the case had signed a protective order in which they agreed not to share them with others.
But on April 14, the Times published its first report relying on the documents. On Monday, it published the latest such story, spelling out the relationship between Universal Studios prexy Ron Meyer and Pellicano.
Gruel and Terree Bowers, attorney for defendant Terry Christensen, objected to the halt in discovery. Gruel said it suggested “from the get-go” that the leak was one of the defense attorneys.
Indeed, one reason the San Diego office is handling the leak investigation is that prosecutors themselves may be the source of leaks.
Gruel also told the judge, “Let me say, unequivocally, this did not come from the Pellicano camp, and it did not come from Mr. Pellicano directly.”