Former Official Scores Justice Department Tactics
This article is from the archive of The New York Sun before the launch of its new website in 2022. The Sun has neither altered nor updated such articles but will seek to correct any errors, mis-categorizations or other problems introduced during transfer.
SAN FRANCISCO – A former senior Justice Department official under President Bush is launching an unusual broadside against an effort by prosecutors to force two San Francisco Chronicle reporters to identify their sources for stories based on leaks of grand jury testimony from an investigation into steroid use in professional baseball.
In an affidavit filed in federal court here yesterday, the director of public affairs and chief spokesman for the Justice Department from 2002 to 2005, Mark Corallo, argued that his former agency violated its own procedures when it served grand jury subpoenas last month on the newspaper and the journalists, Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams.
“Compelling the reporters to testify in this instance would have an incalculable chilling effect on the press, and would be a waste of government and taxpayer resources,” Mr. Corallo wrote. Under Justice Department guidelines, he said, a subpoena to a reporter requires the approval of the department’s chief spokesman and the attorney general.
Mr. Corallo told the court he rejected “numerous requests” for such subpoenas during his three-year tenure, and approved only one criminal subpoena. “In that single instance, the underlying matter involved an issue of grave national security,” he wrote.
In an interview with The New York Sun yesterday, Mr. Corallo was even more adamant that his former colleagues had gone astray in seeking to haul the two reporters before a grand jury. “It’s disgraceful. You have a Justice Department that has now taken a complete turn in policy,” he said. “It shows how this department has lost all perspective when it comes to the right of a free press in a free society.”
Mr. Corallo said the department’s rules and official prosecution manual dictate that subpoenas should only be issued to the press in “exigent circumstances.” He said that would include some cases involving national security or prosecutions of serious crimes, but not a leak in a steroid-abuse probe that he said is closed. “This does not even come close,” Mr. Corallo said, adding that the subpoenas would not have been approved under the former attorney general, John Ashcroft.
Mr. Corallo also said the department and the courts should take note of the tighter drug testing requirements Major League Baseball implemented because of the Chronicle’s reporting. “The articles they published were a national service,” he said. “They forced baseball to do something it had refused to do for the past decade.”
The former Justice Department official’s affidavit was part of a motion the Chronicle filed yesterday in an attempt to quash the subpoenas. The newspaper’s lawyers also submitted supportive affidavits from a former baseball commissioner, Francis Vincent Jr., and a prominent journalist, Carl Bernstein.
Mr. Corallo, who now works as a public relations consultant, said he offered his assistance for free because he is a devoted baseball fan and is friendly with Mr. Fainaru-Wada.
The leak investigation is being handled by federal prosecutors in Los Angeles. A spokesman at that office referred questions about Mr. Corallo’s critique to Mr. Corallo’s successor, Tasia Scolinos, who did not return a call seeking comment.