Saturday, September 30, 2023
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No Verdict, but Questions Abound in CIA Trial

ALEXANDRIA, Va. (CN) - A day of deliberations brought no verdict from a jury considering a CIA leak case, although jurors did have several questions.

Jurors in the Eastern District of Virginia federal courthouse in Alexandria began deliberating about 3:30 p.m. Thursday in the case of Jeffrey Sterling, a former CIA agent accused of leaking classified mission information to a journalist.

The jury had listened to six days of testimony from a parade of spies who alleged that Sterling severely compromised national security when he leaked documents and information about a plan to thwart the Iranian nuclear program to New York Times reporter James Risen. Citing anonymous sources, Risen published the classified information in his 2006 book "State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration."

Throughout Thursday afternoon and Friday, jurors sent half a dozen questions to District Judge Leonie Brinkema. After first asking for post-it notes and masking tape, jurors then sent deeper questions about the nine charges Sterling faces for retaining and conveying CIA documents, sharing classified information and obstruction of justice.

Venue has been a contentious issue since before the case went to trial. Sterling was a CIA case officer in New York during the mission in question, and after a brief period living in Herndon, Virginia, he moved to his current home of Missouri.

Risen works in the District of Columbia, and the government has no proof of the two meeting in Virginia or anywhere else. The government established the venue for the trial by proving that "State of War" was sold and read in the Eastern District of Virginia. Thursday afternoon, the jury asked for more clarification on venue for Sterling's obstruction of justice charge, in which he is accused of deleting an email while he was living in Missouri. If the government failed to prove venue by a preponderance of the evidence, a jury is required to acquit on that charge.

Friday morning, Brinkema denied the jury's request to access transcripts of two of the witnesses. Jurors then asked about the meaning of the "direct or indirect communications" reference in one of their instructions, but the judge told them that direct communication is the only form at issue in Sterling's case.

Shortly before Brinkema dismissed the jury at 4:30 p.m., they requested more copies of the jury instructions and then asked the judge about count 3 of Sterling's indictment, which alleges that Sterling retained a letter from his time at the CIA in his residence between January 2002 and January 2003. While the indictment used the word residence, the elements of the offense that tells the jury what to consider for their verdict did not specify residence.

Brinkema told jurors to follow the language of the elements of the offense, and at the request of Sterling's attorneys, reminded them to consider venue for the retention as well.

The jury will continue deliberating the case at 10 a.m. Monday, unless delayed by winter weather.

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