A federal judge barred the Cable News Network from broadcasting Manuel Noriega's taped conversations with his lawyers, saying the ousted Panama dictator's right to a fair trial on drug charges is in jeopardy.
Defense attorney Frank Rubino said he would demand that the case against Noriega be dismissed."We are absolutely shocked and horrified that the United States government would wiretap General Noriega and his lawyers engaging in the most sensitive of communications," Rubino said.
But Justice Department officials said the taping was routine, and that Noriega had known his calls would be monitored. A federal prison spokesman said it was up to Noriega to inform officials that he was talking with his attorneys so they would stop the recording.
U.S. District Judge William Hoeveler on Thursday told CNN it couldn't broadcast the tapes, made by prison officials, and demanded an investigation into how the network got them. He also ordered the taping stopped.
Attorney General Richard Thornburgh, in Tampa on Thursday, said U.S. officials want to find out how the tapes were leaked to CNN.
"It concerns us greatly that an apparent unauthorized use was made of these tapes," he said.
CNN accused the judge of exercising unconstitutional prior restraint and demanded an immediate hearing on the issue from the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta. No hearing was immediately scheduled by the appeals court, but Hoeveler scheduled another hearing in his court for late this afternoon.
Meantime, he told the news station not to broadcast, at least through today, any tapes that would interfere with attorney-client privilege rights.
"Because of our belief the order is unconstitutional, we will continue our coverage as we challenge this restraining order in the courts," said CNN President Tom Johnson.
Hoeveler said he had to weigh Noriega's right to a fair trial against CNN's right to freedom of the press.
U.S. Justice Department officials said the taping was routine and produced a document in English and Spanish that Noriega signed acknowledging that his phone conversations would be monitored.
Federal prosecutors told Hoeveler they haven't heard the tapes. Rubino was skeptical.
"And I believe in Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy," he said.