As Josh Gerstein first reported, the government has just asked the judge in the Jeffrey Sterling trial, Leonie Brinkema, to declare James Risen unavailable as a witness. After having defended their own right to call Risen as a witness all the way to the Supreme Court, claiming all the way they need Risen to prove their case, they’re now saying Sterling should not be able to call him.
Mr. Risen’s under-oath testimony has now laid to rest any doubt concerning whether he will ever disclose his sources or sources for Chapter 9 of State of War (or, for that matter, anything else he’s written). He will not. As a result, the government does not intend to call him as a witness at trial. Doing so would simply frustrate the truth-seeking function of the trial. This is true irrespective of whether he is called by the government or the defense–he is unavailable to both parties.
The real issue, it seems, is the government’s worry that Sterling’s lawyers will ask Risen about those past claims.
[S]ince Mr. Risen is not available as a witness on the central issue in the case, the defendant should be prohibited from commenting on Mr. Risen’s failure to appear or suggesting that the government has failed to meet its burden because it did not call him as a witness.
The government has even asked Brinkema to give jurors an instruction saying,
James Risen has refused to testify concerning his source or sources for Chapter Nine of his book State of War. He is therefore unavailable as a witness in this case. As a result, you should draw no inferences as to either the government or the defense based on Mr. Risen’s absence as a witness or any testimony he might have provided.
We’ll see whether Sterling’s lawyers want to engage in a game of chicken in order to present the lengths to which the government pursued Risen, in addition to their client, in this case.
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.
Reprinted with permission from ExposeFacts.