After the news broke last week that San Francisco Chronicle reporters Lance Williams and Mark Fainaru-Wada wouldn’t be going to jail for refusing to reveal their BALCO source, Editor Phil Bronstein organized a little celebration in the newsroom. Bronstein ordered a cake depicting Williams and Fainaru-Wada in jail-stripes. It was a back-slappy affair for the most part — until veteran reporter Tom Abate cross-examined the duo, Chron sources say, by asking them about getting “used” by their source.
Cue uncomfortable silence.
Williams recalls telling Abate that they had fought “like wildcats” for eight months not to disclose their sources, and they were not going to now.
Some might accuse Williams and Fainaru-Wada of having their cake and eating it, too. Both still won’t identify their source even though defense attorney Troy Ellerman, who represented one of the BALCO defendants, confessed last week that he let Fainaru-Wada copy the secret grand jury testimony of star athletes like Barry Bonds. By refusing to talk about their sourcing, they get to avoid questions like Abate’s.
Under Ellerman’s plea agreement, the lawyer admitted that he illegally leaked secret grand jury testimony and then filed a motion asking the judge to dismiss the case because of the leaks, which he blamed on prosecutors. The plea deal also revealed that Fainaru-Wada went back to copy more of the testimony after Ellerman filed his deceptive and Machiavellian motion to dismiss.
In an angry letter to federal prosecutors, the always provocative Michael Rains, attorney for Barry Bonds, accuses the Chron reporters of aiding and abetting Ellerman’s crime. “Does the reporter’s desire to protect a ‘source’ require the reporter to engage in the ‘noble’ act of sitting idly by knowing that an attorney (Ellerman) has committed an act of perjury and has accused the government of doing that which the attorney himself has done?”
Rains’ letter also demands that the feds keep their investigation going to find other leakers. Rains suggests that prosecutors are hastily wrapping up the leak investigation before they find someone in their ranks leaked other secret documents.
Williams, meanwhile, insists he and Fainaru-Wada aren’t trying to dodge tough questions about their sourcing: “The reason we can’t talk about it is we promised confidentiality [to our] sources. It begins and ends there.”