Whom or what was Matt Cooper protecting?

He’d already fingered Libby; the disputed notes may contain the identities of innocent witnesses.

It seems that Matt Cooper had already testified about his conversations with “Scooter” Libby (Cheney’s chief of staff) about Valerie Plame. Libby apparently had released Cooper from his pledge of confidentiality (which answers the question previously debated in the blogosphere about the asserted futility of such releases), and Libby was apparently the only potential leaker the prosecutors wanted to hear about from Cooper.

The notes in dispute apparently contain information about another source or sources, who might turn out to be innocent witnesses to the affair rather than one of its perpetrators. If so, then the court order does indeed create a precedent making legitimate newsgathering more difficult, and Cooper does indeed have a professional obligation to protect those innocent sources. I’d still doubt that his obligation gave him an adequate moral warrant for ignoring a lawful final court order, but your mileage may vary.

I’d be disappointed, after all this huffing and puffing, to get no one higher on the totem pole than Libby, but we can’t know whom he might turn in once he’s really facing a long prison term.

Hat tip: Newsrack, linking to Radosh.net, quoting letters to Romanesko from Susan Stabley and James Cole.

Updated to correct a misinterpretation of the underlying news story pointed out by a reader.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com