Jewish World Review Dec. 8, 2004 / 25 Kislev, 5765

Edward I. Koch

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By stepping up to the plate on this important issue, the U.S. Attorney will be hitting a home run for justice | I am not a sports fan. Before reading this week's newspapers, I wasn't even familiar with Barry Bonds.

I now know he is one of baseball's great home run hitters. I also know that he testified before a federal grand jury in San Francisco in a criminal matter alleging the use of steroids. His grand jury testimony, or at least parts of it, was leaked to and published by the San Francisco Chronicle.

I also have learned that Jason Giambi, a slugger who plays for the New York Yankees, was questioned by that same grand jury and, according to the Chronicle, testified that, "he had knowingly used steroids, while Mr. Bonds was quoted by the newspaper on Friday as telling the grand jury that he had used a clear substance and a cream that he had received from Balco [Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative] but that he did not know what they were."

Grand jury testimony is protected by law, state and federal, which makes it a felony to release any grand jury testimony, except that a witness may release his or her own testimony. The reason for this protection is to get people to tell the truth, to protect witnesses and potential defendants from suffering harmful consequences by the premature release of testimony, and to protect the government's investigation in advance of a criminal indictment.

It is surprising that individuals and organizations who pride themselves as civil libertarians have failed — so far as I know — to protest the release of Bond's and Giambi's grand jury testimony. Within the last month, newspapers, organizations, political and community leaders and even a presidential candidate were denouncing the invasions of privacy attributed to the Patriot Act, which seeks to protect this country from terrorists. Yet, the violation of the rights of baseball players by a reputable newspaper goes unchallenged. Surely, in the words of playwright Arthur Miller, "attention must paid" to the rights of Barry Bonds and Jason Giambi, whether these individuals ultimately turn out to be innocent or guilty, if they are ever indicted. The U.S. Attorney in San Francisco should perform his sworn duty and seek to ascertain who leaked the grand jury minutes, in order to prosecute them as lawbreakers.

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On the issue of leaks, isn't it a gross miscarriage of justice that we still don't know who unlawfully leaked the name of the C.I.A. covert agent, Valerie Plame, to Bob Novak and other reporters, so that that person can be prosecuted? As recently as this week The New York Times inveighed against the efforts of the government to identify who leaked the name of the C.I.A. agent to reporters, if to do so required the reporters to provide the name of the person who furnished the information in violation of the law.

Reporters have no blanket exemption under federal law to refuse to testify before grand juries with respect to others who are alleged to have committed criminal acts. The Times believes such an exemption should be legislated by Congress. The U.S. government appears to take the position that it will only seek source information from reporters if there is no other way to identify the lawbreakers. I think that is a reasonable and responsible position.

An aphorism attributed to the 19th century British prime minister, Gladstone, that still rings true is "justice delayed, is justice denied." But more than ringing true, delays in bringing lawbreakers to justice breed contempt for the law and the rights of citizens. I hope that the U.S. Attorney moves quickly to bring before a grand jury the reporters and editors responsible for the story on Barry Bonds which appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle. By stepping up to the plate on this important issue, the U.S. Attorney will be hitting a home run for justice.

Who says I don't know all I need to know about baseball?

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JWR contributor Edward I. Koch, the former mayor of New York, can be heard on Bloomberg Radio (WBBR 1130 AM) every Sunday from 9-10 am . Comment by clicking here.

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© 2004, Edward I. Koch