Kristof: I Was on Subpoena List

New York Times op-ed columnist Nicholas D. Kristof–the first journalist to have written about former ambassador Joseph Wilson’s now-famous fact-finding trip to Niger–was originally on prosecutor Patrick J. Fitzgerald’s subpoena list in 2003, but was never subpoenaed.

In a phone conversation this afternoon, Kristof said he had been on the list. He also said that he had never heard from Bush administration officials about his columns, and had never discussed the subject with Times reporter Judith Miller.

Word that the columnist had been on the list “seeped to me unofficially,” Kristof said. He added that people both inside and outside the Times had told him of his role in Fitzgerald’s investigation, and of a possible subpoena.

Earlier today, Miller testifed for two hours in a return trip to Fitzgerald’s grand jury, which is investigating the leaking of CIA operative Valerie Plame Wilson’s identity to the press. Her first round of testimony came after she spent 85 days in jail for refusing to discuss her conversations with vice-presidential chief of staff I. Lewis (Scooter) Libby, on the grounds she was protecting a confidential source.

Kristof said that though he had written about Joseph Wilson, he never heard from Libby, presidential advisor Karl Rove or other administration officials about his columns. Kristof also said that he did not discuss the columns with Miller. It remains unclear what story Miller was working on when she spoke with Libby in 2003, or for what editor.

The leak was widely thought to have followed from Joseph Wilson’s July 2003 Times op-ed piece, in which the ex-diplomat, citing his own CIA-assigned investigation, cast doubt on the Bush administration’s claims that Iraq had sought to buy uranium from Niger.

But last week, Miller revealed to Fitzgerald that she had conversed with vice-presidential chief of staff I. Lewis (Scooter) Libby in June of 2003–not merely in July, as her previous testimony had established.

Kristof had written about Joseph Wilson’s uranium inquiries on May 6, 2003, using the ex-diplomat as an anonymous background source. That column inspired Washington Post reporter Walter Pincus to report about Wilson–also without using his name–in a front-page piece on June 12.

Pincus was among the reporters summoned to testify before Fitzgerald’s grand jury, but Kristof was not. The prosecutor apparently abandoned plans to subpoena Kristof after it was pointed out that Kristof’s writings on the subject–on May 6 and June 13, 2003–all predated the Robert Novak column in July that revealed Valerie Wilson’s identity.

“It was correct I was on such a list,” Kristof said. “Several months later, I did hear unofficially there was a decision not to call me.”

Times spokesperson Catherine Mathis would neither confirm nor deny whether Kristof had been on Fitzgerald’s subpoena list.

“As you know the grand jury proceedings are secret,” Mathis said in an e-mail. “We are only aware of the subpoenas that we actually received. Mr. Kristof did not receive one.”

A spokesperson for Fitzgerald declined to comment.

Kristof also said that he had been planning to write about Miller’s incarceration. He had arranged to meet with Miller at the Alexandria Detention Center on October 3, but Miller negotiated her release before the appointed day.

The purpose of the meeting was to write a column about Miller’s prison experience, Kristof said.

“I was planning to write a column describing her condition and saying a reporter has no business being in prison and should be out,” he said. “I’m waiting, as a lot of people are, for the Times opus on it, and I don’t feel right now that I understand it well enough to weigh in. I’m eagerly looking forward to that piece. I think it’s important, and I may write about it if I have something useful to add.”

–Gabriel Sherman