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A Case of Political Descent
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Case Closed
 
Confidential Sources on Trial
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Realizing that he needed to educate himself about the relevant precedents, Pearlstine started boning up on case law. “I actually went back and started reading, probably more cases than I'd read since Penn Law School,” he says. He knew from the start that his decision would not be easy, although it was only after he began immersing himself in the texts and familiarizing himself with the legal issues at stake that he began to realize just how difficult it would be.

His assessment of the case boiled down to a handful of key considerations. “Branzburg was squarely on point and I could not distinguish this case from Branzburg — it did involve a grand jury, it did involve confidential sources,” Pearlstine says. “Once the Supreme Court had ruled — and I considered refusal to take the petition as a ruling — I could not find any media companies that had defied a Supreme Court decision.”

The national security aspects of the case raised another concern. Former Ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV, Valerie Plame's husband and the Administration critic who had questioned President Bush's State of the Union assertion that Saddam Hussein had sought to buy enriched uranium in Africa, charged that his wife's unmasking was political retribution orchestrated at the highest levels of government. A redacted portion of the ruling of one of the three appellate judges' provided what Pearlstine says was “the strong suggestion that there were issues involving national security and the possible violation of federal law on the part of our source.”
 
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