Time vet made famous by Plame controversy

Portfolio, the high-profile but mysterious Conde Nast business magazine, has made one of its most prominent hires to date: Matt Cooper.

The mag has brought on the Time magazine staffer to run its Washington, D.C., bureau.

For a period in 2005, Cooper was one of the most famous journalists in America. He became a free-press cause celebre when he refused to hand over notes associated with the Valerie Plame leak.

Later the case became a sign of the legal threats to free presswhen the magazine capitulated to a subpoena and turned over notes related to the case. Cooper narrowly avoided jail time.

But Cooper’s legacy as a reporter actually predates the scandal; he reported on D.C. and the White House for Newsweek, the New Republic and Time for many years before Plamegate.

A statement from Portfolio also noted that “Mr. Cooper moonlights as a stand-up comedian and was named Washington’s Funniest Celebrity in 1998.”

Since the Plame incident, Cooper has been on the Time.com staff. He will begin work at Portfolio in September, a spokesperson said.

The new mag has been busy beefing up its staff and trickling out, very slowly, clues about its identity. It’s taking shape as a place for glossy but serious business journalism, and will complement its longform print pieces with breaking news on its Web site.

To what extent the magazine will cover legislative happenings remains unclear.

Cooper’s hire comes amid reports Portfolio also had attempted to sign Bethany McLean, the Fortune reporter who was instrumental in breaking the Enron scandal, and a star of the Alex Gibney docu about the controversy, “Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room.” Portfolio has hired several staffers from Fortune.

Cooper’s exit from Time occurs as that pub undergoes its own transition. The mag recently named Rick Stengel managing editor, its highest editorial position, replacing Jim Kelly.

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