WASHINGTON – Judith Miller, The New York Times reporter jailed since July 6 for refusing to identify a source, was released Thursday and said she will appear before a grand jury here today.

“It’s good to be free,” said Miller, whose incarceration sparked a national debate about the First Amendment and unnamed sources.

She was jailed by a federal judge when she refused to testify before a grand jury investigating whether Bush administration officials leaked the name of a CIA covert officer, Valerie Plame. The investigation, a political embarrassment to the Bush administration, could still result in criminal charges against government officials.

Miller’s surprise release came 10 days after she spoke by phone from jail with her source – I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff.

During that conversation, Libby reaffirmed that he had released Miller from a promise of confidentiality more than a year ago, according to Libby’s lawyer, Joseph A. Tate of Philadelphia. Libby had signed a blanket waiver, but Miller had been concerned that it might have been coerced by senior Bush administration officials.

“She wanted to hear it directly from Mr. Libby,” Tate said. “And he assured her that it was voluntary.”

A 1982 federal law makes it a crime to disclose the name of American covert agents. Libby’s lawyer has said he did nothing wrong.

Miller was released Thursday at 3:55 p.m., according to officials at the Alexandria Detention Center. Her release, which was not publicly announced, was first reported by The Philadelphia Inquirer on its Web site at 6:40 p.m.

Plame’s husband, former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV, has said he believes his wife’s name was leaked as part of an effort to discredit his criticism of the administration’s buildup to the war in Iraq.

Wilson said he welcomed the news of Miller’s release.

“Who wants to see a journalist in jail?” he said. But Wilson added: “If there was a crime committed, there was a crime committed against the national security of the country, not against me or Valerie.”

Columnist Robert Novak’s July 2003 column sparked the controversy by naming Plame as a CIA operative who worked on weapons-of-mass-destruction issues.

Prosecutors have interviewed President Bush and Cheney and the federal grand jury has taken testimony from senior Bush aides, including advisers Karl Rove and Libby.

In July, a federal judge ordered Miller jailed for refusing to testify about her sources before the grand jury. Miller never wrote an article about Plame.

The judge also threatened to jail Time Magazine reporter Matt Cooper, but Cooper was spared incarceration after agreeing to testify at the last minute, saying Rove had given him a personal release to identify him as a source.

Randall Samborn, a spokesman for U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, the special prosecutor in the leak probe, said, “I have no comment. I have no guidance.”

Since July, Miller had been held in suburban Virginia at the Alexandria Detention Center. According to The Washington Post, her visitors included former NBC anchor Tom Brokaw, U.N. ambassador John R. Bolton and former Sen. Robert J. Dole, R-Kan.

Later, Miller and Times officials released statements in which they said the veteran reporter had not agreed to testify until she became confident that source’s waiver was genuine.

“I went to jail to preserve the time-honored principle that a journalist must respect a promise not to reveal the identity of a confidential source,” Miller said in a statement. “I chose to take the consequences – 85 days in prison – rather than violate that promise. The principle was more important to uphold than my personal freedom.”

“I’ll say nothing more until after my testimony,” Miller added.

The question of why Miller remained in jail for 12 weeks remained something of a mystery on Thursday.

According to Tate, Libby signed a general waiver last year releasing any journalist from a pledge of confidentiality.

“We were very surprised to learn this had anything to do with us, and wish we had known this earlier – that it was her position that she wanted to talk to Libby directly,” Tate said.

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Tate said that other journalists have testified that Libby learned of the Plame-Wilson connection only from other journalists. Tate said he assumed Miller would to tell the grand jury the same thing.

“He’s very happy she’s out,” Tate said. “He expects that her testimony will be helpful to him.”

The newspaper’s publisher, Arthur Sulzberger Jr., said, “We are very pleased that she has finally received a direct and uncoerced waiver, both by phone and in writing, releasing her from any claim of confidentiality and enabling her to testify.”



(c) 2005, The Philadelphia Inquirer.

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AP-NY-09-29-05 2139EDT


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