Thursday, July 07, 2005

ROUNDHOUSE ROUND-UP: BILL RICHARDSON & THE WEN HO FOUR

A version of this was published in The Santa Fe New Mexican
July 7, 2005


Many believe that Gov. Bill Richardson is praying that the reporters involved in the Wen Ho Lee privacy lawsuit remain as steadfast as The New York Times’ Judith Miller, who was sentenced to jail Wednesday for refusing to divulge the name of a source to a grand jury investigating the outing of an undercover CIA operative.

But some political experts interviewed Wednesday say that even if it’s revealed that Richardson leaked the name of the former Los Alamos scientist to reporters months before Lee was charged with any crime, the ultimate effect on Richardson’s political career would be minimal.

Richardson, as secretary of energy under President Clinton, fired Lee, a computer scientist at Los Alamos National Laboratory, who was under investigation of espionage. He has long suspected of leaking Lee’s name.

Richardson flatly has denied being the leaker. In a deposition for Lee’s lawsuit the governor said he didn’t remember making some statements about the Lee firing attributed to him in various newspapers.

Lee filed a lawsuit shortly after his 1999 indictment claiming officials from the Energy and Justice departments violated the privacy act of 1974 by leaking his name and other information about him to reporters.

That case came roaring back in the news last week when a federal appeals court upheld contempt citations against four reporters who refused to testify concerning confidential sources who gave then information about Lee. The court dropped a contempt charge against a fifth reporter.

That decision came one day after the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the appeal of Miller and Time reporter Matt Cooper, who are charged with contempt in the Valerie Plame case. Plame’s name as a CIA agent was leaked by unnamed White House sources after her husband, diplomat Joseph Wilson disputed Bush administration claims that Iraq tried to buy uranium in Africa.

What the judge said:
In the Wen Ho Lee decision, Appeals Judge David Sentelle singled out the names of Richardson, Acting Director of DOE Intelligence and Counterintelligence Notra Trulock and Edward Curran, former director of the DOE Office of Counterintelligence.

“These three individuals in particular had been identified as likely sources of the leaks, but were unable (or unwilling) to identify the leaker(s).”

The judge noted that one of the defendants, James Risen of The New York Times, “refused to testify as to whether Secretary Richardson disclosed Lee’s identity or information about his interrogation or prosecution to Risen.” Risen also refused to testify “whether Notra Trulock was correct in his testimony before Congress when he said that Secretary Richardson had leaked Lee’s name to Risen.” Trulock made this statement at an October 2000 hearing.

The judge also noted that another defendant Bob Drogin of the Los Angeles Times had refused to answer questions about alleged interviews with Richardson about Lee that involved off-the-record statements.

A Richardson spokesman said Wednesday that the governor doesn’t comment on pending lawsuits. But Billy Sparks said Richardson believes the decision will have a “chilling effect” on journalists’ right to protect confidential sources.

Who remembers?: Let’s assume a worst-case scenario: One of the Wen Ho Four, perhaps shaken by the image of Judith Miller being taken away in handcuffs, breaks down and sings like a bird, naming Richardson as his Deep Throat.

What would that do to the political career of the governor, who is seeking re-election next year and is considering a run for the presidency in 2008?

“People who wish to discredit him will hunt for possible blemishes on his record,” said UNM political science professor F. Chris Garcia.

He said such a revelation would have to be considered negative. “But I think there would be tremendous damage control measures,” Garcia said. “The governor and his staff are pretty good at that.”

Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, said, “The bad news (for Richardson) is that it would be an unpleasant episode for him. Some of his former colleagues, like Bill Clinton, might be unhappy with him.

“The good news is that besides you and me there’s probably only 140 in this country who remember Wen Ho Lee. Someone like Bill Richardson has overcome a lot of obstacles. He could overcome this.”

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