Senator John Cornyn Asks Eric Holder To Explain DOJ Prosecution Of Aaron Swartz

from the this-is-getting-bigger... dept

While we’ve seen some politicians in Congress speak out about the prosecution against Aaron Swartz, for the most part, it had been the “usual crew” of folks who had formed the core of the anti-SOPA alliance — Reps. Lofgren, Issa and Polis. That’s great, but it also made it unfortunately easy for some to dismiss their complaints. However, it appears that this may be getting bigger. Senator John Cornyn has jumped in and sent a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder asking for an explanation of the prosecution against Aaron Swartz. He specifically asks a number of interesting questions:

First, on what basis did the U.S. Attorney for the District of Massachusetts conclude that her office’s conduct was “appropriate?” Did that office, or any office within the Department, conduct a review? If so, please identify that review and supply its contents.

Second, was the prosecution of Mr. Swartz in any way retaliation for his exercise of his rights as a citizen under the Freedom of Information Act? If so, I recommend that you refer the matter immediately to the Inspector General.

Third, what role, if any, did the Department’s prior investigations of Mr. Swartz play in the decision of with which crimes to charge him? Please explain the basis for your answer.

Fourth, why did the U.S. Attorney’s office file the superseding indictment?

Fifth, when the U.S. Attorney’s office drafted the indictment and the superseding indictment, what consideration was given to whether the counts charged and the associated penalties were proportional to Mr. Swartz’s alleged conduct and its impact upon victims?

Sixth, was it the intention of the U.S. Attorney and/or her subordinates to “make an example” of Mr. Swartz? Please explain.

Finally, the U.S. Attorney has blamed the “severe punishments authorized by Congress” for the apparent harshness of the charges Mr. Swartz faced. Does the Department of Justice give U.S. Attorneys discretion to charge defendants (or not charge them) with crimes consistent with their view of the gravity of the wrongdoing in a specific case?

Interesting questions all around. As Emptywheel notes, that second question is a bit of a new one. People have talked about the earlier investigations of Aaron, as well as his activism, but little attention has been paid to his widespread use of FOIA. However, Aaron did file a lot of FOIA requests, using the same platform, MuckRock, that we’ve used here at Techdirt. In fact, MuckRock put up a post about Aaron’s use of that service including the fact that Aaron and MuckRock were currently in the middle of appealing the results of a FOIA request concerning domain seizures — a story that potentially could implicate the DOJ.

I am sure that we’ll get the usual bland denials and non-answers from Holder, but it is significant to see Senators like Cornyn suddenly take an interest in this particular issue.

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Comments on “Senator John Cornyn Asks Eric Holder To Explain DOJ Prosecution Of Aaron Swartz”

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Jay (profile) says:

Ok, he’s my senator. But given that he’s up for election in 2014 and he had the chance to takeit to Holder on prosecutorial overreach, I know this is mainly a partisan tactic.

Still, for him to open a new level of inquiry and force some new questions into this tragedy, I’m willing to give credit where credit is due. This has me raising my level of respect for him.

Yes, he’s still wrong about 90% of what he says (judicial activism, Stratfor, big oil, money as speech) but I’ll support him on this.

Ninja (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I believe that we should both condemn them for the wrongs they do but also and VERY importantly prise the things they do right. We often tend to give a lot of importance to the negative things and forget the good ones. We should remember that politicians are also human beings. Some of them certainly rotten pieces of shit but we must be careful not to generalize things.

Nut Job says:

Re: Re:

Scumbag. The internet is a buzz discussing Aaron’s death and social issues to cope with the tragic loss.
1. To honor him.
2. Because what he was passionate about, we all can identify with.

If anything, what you are doing is worse than anything you accuse Mike and us of doing. You are a scumbag… OK I am sorry scumbags, I didn’t mean to insult you.
You can only hope to climb to scumbag status in your pathetic little insignificant life. I hope tragedy hits your life as hard as it has his family.

Fuck you very much. Asshole.

commenter8 (profile) says:

Sign these White House petitions!

White House petition to Fire US Attorney Carmen Ortiz (41,903 now)

White House petition to Fire Assistant US Attorney Steve Heymann (8,074 now)

White House petition to Reform the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (3,151 now)

White House petition to Limit Copyrights to a Maximum of 10 Years (2,438 now)

DataShade (profile) says:

For my money, the seventh and final question is the real sucker-punch. Any way Holder answers that question, he’s screwed. Discretion? “So what you’re saying is Swartz’ family was correct and this was an overzealous prosecution.” No discretion? “Oh, really? I just happen to have a list of incidents here where your office declined to prosecute….”

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

And other than grandstanding this does what?

The DOJ has a growing bodycount, but we are more concerned that Nikki might shiv Mariah.
The DOJ has perverted the law time and time again to suit the interest of some party who isn’t the public.

DaJaz1, Rojo, Mega, Fast and Furious, Occupy, and the list goes on and on.
I’d love for Aaron Swartz’s case to be the final straw that reveals the emperor isn’t naked but covered in corporate logos… but the new season of Idol started and my magic 8 ball says the outlook isn’t good.

It took another 28 dead before we decided we should talk about guns, and that is already off the rails.

How many more people need to be crushed into submission before the feet of the DOJ before we get change? And can we even get the change we need when we can’t have rational discussions anymore?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

What is currently happening in Washington regarding guns is meant to increase government power.

The questions posed by the senator are asking the DOJ about its abuse of power.

These two things are completely opposite. One asks why the government isn’t using its power to ‘protect’ us, the other is asking why the government is using its power to abuse us.

shane (profile) says:

Re: Re: This is exactly right

Is this gun issue leaking over to this post as well?

At some point yesterday, Tech Dirt’s general atmosphere turned from one resisting government over reach to one promoting centralized power and authority, and they apparently are utterly ignorant of or else willfully resistant to the fact that they have done this.

That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: This is exactly right

Only to highlight the vast divide we suffer from now.
We can no longer talk about some things without people stamping their feet and saying no no no no no… on both sides.

There was motivation to understand and see how things could be changed, and it exploded into the fingers in the ears yelling LALALALALALALALALA it can’t be my sides fault.

It is one thing to say we need change, we need answers, etc. It is another to get them and create change in a country that is polarized on every single issue and no one will budge.

Anonymous Coward says:

I have been told I am on a kill list because someone didn’t like some of my legal porn and didn’t like my politics. They may be setting me up for murder.

I tend to think they didn’t like my politics. I was a small part of demand progress.


The American public says:

Put Eric Holder in Guantanamo

We know he’s broken constitutional laws, probably on a weekly basis. Along with other senior members of the US government, Eric Holder views this as differences in “interpretation” of laws. Wouldn’t it be great if all criminals could do the same? “Oh judge, I didn’t murder him. His body just went into a state of not living” and “it’s ok that I allow spying on US citizens because the law says no spying, and we are doing surveillance.”

It won’t be long until someone leaks the details of the secret interpretations of the constitution by the US government, and they all go to jail. Enjoy.

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