Government Wants to Know Potential Sterling Jurors’ Opinions about Whistleblowers

CIA“Do you have any positive or negative beliefs or opinions regarding the term ‘whistleblower’ or individuals who act in the role of a ‘whistleblower’?” the government wants to have Judge Leonie Brinkema ask potential jurors in CIA whistleblower Jeffrey Sterling’s trial next week. “Do you have any opinion, favorable or unfavorable, about organizations or individuals who release to the public government documents and information without authorization, including the news media, government employees, or private persons?” the government offered as another proposed question for jurors.

Sterling, meanwhile, is more interested in what potential jurors think of Condoleezza Rice. As National Security Adviser, she convinced the New York Times not to publish James Risen’s story on Operation Merlin, the dubious plot to deal Iran flawed nuclear blueprints. Prosecutors had wanted to submit the talking points she used to do so, without calling her to testify, but Judge Brinkema ruled that Rice would have to take the stand to enter those talking points. The government objects to questions specifically directed to opinions about Rice, finding it “inflammatory.”

Both the government and Sterling would like the judge to ask what jurors will think of witnesses who testify behind screens or using initials, as current and former CIA witnesses against Sterling will do.

Finally, the government — back in 2011 when they first proposed these questions — had asked for a question that may now be moot. They had wanted jurors asked if they knew James Risen or had any close ties to the news media.

Now Politico reports that the government, at least, has decided not to call Risen as a witness in this case. Sterling’s lawyer will leave the option open of calling the reporter to testify.

For years, the government has insisted Risen is the key witness to the crimes they allege Sterling of having committed. But now they’re willingly choosing not to call that witness to testify.

About Marcy Wheeler

Investigative journalist Marcy Wheeler writes the "Right to Know" column for ExposeFacts. She is best known for providing in-depth analysis of legal documents related to "war on terrorism" programs and civil liberties. Wheeler blogs at emptywheel.net and publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon and the Progressive. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit: How the Bush Administration Used the Media to Sell the Iraq War and Out a Spy. Wheeler won the 2009 Hillman Award for blog journalism.