Members Of Congress Ask Eric Holder To Try Again In His Explanation Of The Prosecution Of Aaron Swartz
from the this-time,-with-some-reality-involved dept
Tomorrow is the anniversary of the unfortunate passing of Aaron Swartz. Senators John Cornyn and Al Franken, along with Rep. Darryl Issa, have now sent Attorney General Eric Holder yet another request for an explanation concerning the investigation and prosecution of Swartz. This follows on a similar request from last year, but these elected officials note both that the DOJ's response was inadequate, and that it was also contradicted by the eventual report on the prosecution that came out of MIT.
We regret that the information your Department has provided to date has not
been satisfactory -- among other things, it painted a picture of prosecutors unwilling
or unable to weigh what charges to pursue against a defendant, something which
you have instructed federal prosecutors is "among [their] most fundamental duties."
The account also is inconsistent with findings in the report prepared by MIT
about the prosecution of Mr. Swartz, dated July 26, 2013 ("MIT Report"). A letter
provided by the Department in May states that "the charging and sentencing
decisions made by Department. lawyers were properly based on the law and the
facts of the case . . . and not on inappropriate considerations, such as Mr. Swartz's
exercise of his legal rights as a citizen." The MIT Report indicates that Assistant
U.S. Attorney Stephen Heymann considered other factors in advance of the return
of the superseding indictment. He told MIT that "the straw that broke the camel's
back" was an internet webpage soliciting signatures on Mr. Swartz's behalf by
Demand Progress, an activist group founded by Mr. Swartz.
In other words, despite the claims from Holder that the charges against Aaron were not based on Swartz exercising his right to free speech, Stephen Heymann has since admitted that, in fact, Swartz's friends speaking out on his behalf were what made him decide to try to throw the book at Swartz. The letter points out further claims from Holder that appear to be contradicted by the MIT report and note:
Inconsistencies such as these require serious responses to the original letter,
and indeed raise more questions about the prosecution of Mr. Swartz. One year
ago, we sought the basis for the U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz's determination that
her office's conduct was "appropriate." We have received no such information, not
even the sentencing memoranda that surely were prepared in a case such as this.
In March, you testified that Mr. Swartz's case was "a good use of
prosecutorial discretion." We respectfully disagree. We hope your response to this
letter is fulsome, which would help re-build confidence about the willingness of the
Department to examine itself where prosecutorial conduct is concerned.
Given how Holder and the DOJ have responded to these issues in the past, I wouldn't expect any real response to be forthcoming any time soon.