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Ear to the Ground

Would Holder Prosecute Greenwald? A Blurry Answer

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Posted on Nov 17, 2013
USDAgov (CC BY-ND 2.0)

Attorney General Eric Holder.

An inquiry by Florida Congressman Alan Grayson compelled Attorney General Eric Holder to state that “any journalist who’s engaged in true journalistic activities is not going to be prosecuted by [the U.S.] Justice Department.” But as civil liberties journalist Glenn Greenwald points out, the assertion is riddled with caveats.

In an email sent to supporters, Grayson’s office wrote that it contacted Holder to learn whether Greenwald’s fears of being detained and prosecuted if he re-enters the United States are justified. Greenwald, an American citizen, lives in Brazil, and has become a major thorn in the side of the U.S. government since he began reporting on documents leaked by NSA whistle-blower Edward Snowden at the beginning of the summer. Shortly after the reports began, New York Congressman Peter King called for Greenwald’s prosecution.

Greenwald should not be concerned, Grayson wrote, because:

(1) the commission of journalism is not a crime; (2) on the contrary, it is protected explicitly under the First Amendment; and (3) Mr. Greenwald’s reports regarding these subjects have, in fact, informed me, other Members of Congress, and the general public of serious, pervasive violations of law and constitutional rights committed by agents of the government.

So Grayson asked:

Bearing in mind that Mr. Greenwald is a citizen of the United States, please let me know: (1) whether the Department of Justice intends to bring charges against Mr. Greenwald, and (2) should Mr. Greenwald seek to enter the United States, whether the Department of Justice, the Department of Homeland Security, or any other office of the federal government intends to detain, question, arrest, or prosecute Mr. Greenwald, or to monitor or interfere in any way with his entry into or movement within the United States.

On Friday, The Washington Post reported that Holder’s office indicated the Justice Department does not plan to pursue Greenwald. Holder is quoted as saying: “Unless information that has not come to my attention is presented to me, what I have indicated in my testimony before Congress is that any journalist who’s engaged in true journalistic activities is not going to be prosecuted by this Justice Department.”

“I certainly don’t agree with what Greenwald has done,” he continues. “In some ways, he blurs the line between advocate and journalist. But on the basis of what I know now, I’m not sure there is a basis for prosecution of Greenwald.” 

That leaves open the possibility that if Greenwald returned to the U.S. he could be picked up on something Holder would claim he was not aware of at the time he answered Grayson. The Washington post quoted Greenwald’s comment on the response:

Greenwald said he welcomed the statement but remains cautious. “That this question is even on people’s minds is a rather grim reflection of the Obama administration’s record on press freedoms,” he said in an e-mail. “It is a positive step that the Attorney General expressly recognizes that journalism is not and should not be a crime in the United States, but given this administration’s poor record on press freedoms, I’ll consult with my counsel on whether one can or should rely on such caveat-riddled oral assertions about the government’s intentions.”

—Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly.

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