AF cover 4Below is my column today in USA Today on the criminal complaint against Edward Snowden. I have been criticizing the charge under the Espionage Act as abusive and a mistake by the Administration. President Barack Obama has been criticized for years for his use of the controversial 1917 Act. He is responsible for six of the nine total indictments ever brought under the Act. More than all presidents before him and putting Richard Nixon to shame. He has used the act against sources for journalists and only recently was criticized for the attacks on the free press under his Administration. I do not question the basis for prosecution of Snowden for the disclosure of classified information or any theft of such documents. However, the effort to put him away for life does raise an interesting contrast with prior cases, which is the subject of today’s column (slightly expanded from the print version).

As Edward Snowden travels the globe looking for refuge from U.S. law enforcement, the self-proclaimed leaker has finally done what wars and economic crisis failed to do. He has united both Democratic and Republican leaders in an increasing shrill chorus calling for his head. Many of these politicians insist that Snowden must be put away for life or even face the death penalty.

Criminal embarrassment

Yet, what unites both parties in anger does not appear to be the alleged breach of security but the greatest crime of all: embarrassing the establishment. Snowden embarrassed Congress and the White House by discussing not only massive secret surveillance of our citizens but also false statements given to the public by our leaders. For that, he might have to pay with his life.

For many, the recent disclosure of massive warrantless surveillance programs of all citizens by the Obama administration has brought back memories of George Orwell’s 1984. Such comparisons are understandable not only with the anniversary of the book occurring the very week of the disclosures but the Administration’s “doublethink” interpretations of common terms like “transparency” and “privacy.” According to President Obama, the secret surveillance program is not only entirely “transparent” but something of a triumph of privacy.

Yet, another Orwell book seems more apt as the White House and its allies try to contain the scandal: Animal Farm.

Orwell wrote the fanciful account of a farm society of animals at the end of World War II during a period of authoritarian power and government propaganda. The farm government proclaimed equality of all animals but, as the pig Squealer explained, “all animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.” As our leaders joined together on television to bloviate about the need to capture and try the “traitor” Snowden, they were affirming a system of laws that seems to apply to the governed exclusively.

‘Least untruthful’

Consider the charges against Snowden: Official Washington insists that “justice must be done” in the face of a clear criminal act. Yet, when one of their own commits a crime related to classified information, it is difficult to get Attorney General Eric Holder, many members of Congress or the president to even acknowledge it.

For example, there is a clear crime that has been documented and virtually confessed to in this scandal: perjury. Not by Snowden, mind you.

When National Intelligence Director James Clapper appeared before the Senate, he was asked directly, “Does the NSA collect any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans?” Clapper responded, “No, sir. … Not wittingly.”

We now know that was a lie. Moreover, many of the senators who heard that testimony knew it was a lie because they admitted later to knowing about the NSA program to gather data on every citizen. Later, Clapper said that his testimony was “the least untruthful” statement he could make. Yet, of course, that would still make it an untrue statement — which most people call a lie and lawyers call perjury. Indeed, when Roger Clemens was prosecuted for untrue statements before Congress, he was not told of the option to tell the least untrue statement on steroid use.

Where are all of our law and order advocates in the face of the admission that Clapper lied to the Senate and the public? The Justice Department routinely prosecutes people for relatively small misrepresentations in testimony. This was a whopper. A premeditated, knowing lie. Yet, Holder has not even ordered an investigation into the possible perjury. Ironically, the attorney general himself recently gave testimony that was widely viewed as false on the surveillance of journalists and the treatment of journalist investigation as a criminal conspiracy.

Slap on the wrist

Even when the governing elite is caught violating the same law as Snowden, it is considered a minor transgression. Snowden is alleged to have stolen government classified documents and removed them from secure locations. Prosecutors will likely seek a lengthy sentence for that act alone.

But in 2005, Samuel “Sandy” Berger, a former White House national security adviser to Bill Clinton, faced that same charge after he intentionally removed and destroyed copies of a classified document. Not only that but Berger then lied to investigators — a separate crime regularly prosecuted by the Justice Department. Yet, no one called for his long incarceration. Instead, he was allowed to plead guilty to a single misdemeanor with no jail time. That’s right, not a day. Just a fine and a three-year suspension of his security clearance. In other words, the deal allowed Berger to walk and even allowed him to reacquire a clearance after just three years.

Of course, none of our politicians is nearly as open and honest as Squealer. There will be no sign proclaiming the different treatment of the governing and governed classes. They prefer the barnyard to return to its previously sleepy existence once the offender has been put away.

Jonathan Turley is the Shapiro Professor of Public Interest Law at George Washington University and a member of USA TODAY’s Board of Contributors.

June 24, 2013


  1. Elaine

    Of course David Gregory is a “tool” and a “courtier”.

    How else would you get away with creating video evidence of yourself, broadcast to millions, showing yourself violating a criminal statute banning possession of a high capacity magazine and almost immediately receive a letter from the DC Deputy Attorney General relieving you of any concern that you would ever be prosecuted for the crime you so publicly and probably ignorantly committed. Does seem to shine a new light on his shrill bleating attack on Mr. Greenwald.

  2. Elaine M.
    1, June 25, 2013 at 10:24 am

    “I am shocked, shocked to know there is gambling going on in this establishment.”

    Notice the trend:
    Which Corporate rum media news/infotainment programers have had actual NSA whistleblowers on to discuss what they know? Why is it ONLY the pontificators of anti-American sentiments that get the air waves as IF suppressing the free press and whistleblowers of State Crimes is Patriotic Duty? Why is it that ONLY alternative media will carry the REAL whistleblowers to discuss what they know? Craven Fascists in need of an ever more propaganda network… NO?

  3. Now, Matt Taibbi is edgy! His old man, not so much. Taibbi is a good reporter but allows his emotions get the best of himself at times. I think many Rolling Stone scribes are always trying to be the next Hunter Thompson. Just ain’t gonna happen.

  4. Gee, I assumed all you old farts were postmenopausal. Are you putting together a synchronized swimming team for the Olympics? One of the funniest bits ever was Martin Short and Harry Shearer doing a synchronized swimming team.

  5. Insider Threat: Government Employees Urged to Tattle On Coworkers In Effort to Stop Classified Leaks
    Published on Jun 25, 2013 – As the media focuses almost exclusively on Edward Snowden’s possible whereabouts, more details on the Obama administration’s crackdown on whistleblowers have come to light. A new investigative report has revealed the administration’s crackdown on leaks extends far beyond high-profile cases like Snowden or the Associated Press, to the vast majority of government agencies and departments — even those with no connection to intelligence or national security. For nearly two years, the White House has waged a program called “Insider Threat” that forces government employees to remain on the constant lookout for their colleagues’ behavior and to report their suspicions. It targets government officials who leak any information, not just classified material. All of this leads McClatchy to warn: “The [Insider Threat] program could make it easier for the government to stifle the flow of unclassified and potentially vital information to the public, while creating toxic work environments poisoned by unfounded suspicions and spurious investigations.” We’re joined by the reporter who helped break the story, Jonathan Landay, senior national security and intelligence reporter for McClatchy Newspapers. Landay also discusses his reporting that revealed how drone strikes carried out in Pakistan over a four-year period ran contrary to standards set forth publicly by President Obama.

  6. In America, there are TWO sets of Laws:
    One set is reserved for the Poliyical Elite…
    … The other set is used to prosecute Just-us.

  7. Matt Taibbi Calls Andrew Ross Sorkin The ‘Most Credulously Slobbering Financial Reporter On The Planet’
    Posted: 08/01/2012

    Matt Taibbi isn’t letting CNBC host and New York Times columnist Andrew Ross Sorkin off the hook for letting Sandy Weill off the hook.

    Taibbi, the Rolling Stone writer famous for his scathing profile of Goldman Sachs slammed CNBC for the way its pundits treated former Citigroup chairman and CEO Weill last week when he told Sorkin on CNBC’s “Squawk Box” that it might be time to “split up investment banking from banking.”

    Weill is perhaps the founding father of the too-big-to-fail banking system and is responsible for creating the Citi behemoth by combining Citibank, Travelers and Salomon Brothers in the 1990s. Taibbi criticizes Sorkin for not explicitly calling out Weill on his stunning about-face.

    Instead of hitting Weill with “some version of, ‘Dude, are you high? You invented Too Big To Fail!’” Taibbi notes that Sorkin, who is editor-at-large of the Times’s DealBook site, follows up Weill’s epic pronouncement with a “triple-qualified” question that didn’t even hint at the ex-CEO’s huge role in creating an environment that encouraged banks to become gigantic and discouraged lawmakers from stopping them. Not to mention that Weill’s position circa 1990, which he walked back on live television, set the financial system up for a major crisis.

    Taibbi, pulls no punches in his blog post, calling Sorkin: “The single most credulously slobbering financial reporter on the planet.”

    This isn’t the first time Taibbi’s picked a fight with the DealBook editor. In a blog post from last year titled “The Times’ Andrew Ross Sorkin Gives Goldman A Rubdown,” Taibbi slams one of Sorkin’s NYT columns, arguing that it “reads like it was written by the bank’s marketing department.” Taibbi also points out that Dealbook signed a sponsorship agreement with Goldman in November 2010.

  8. Okay … all you ladies ready? One … two … three … SYNCHRONIZE

  9. ap,

    Thanks for the McClatchy link.


    Thanks for the Andrew Blankstein and Brian Bennett link regarding Hastings … no big shock if the conspiracy theories turn out to be true


    I think Greenwald has it right as he compares reporters like Gregory and Snorkin to court courtiers … “They’re just courtiers doing what courtiers have always done: defending the royal court and attacking anyone who challenges or dissents from it. That’s how they maintain their status and access within it. That’s what courtiers to power, by definition, do.”

  10. ap,

    I LOVE Charlie Pierce. He’s one of my favorite political writers. I always enjoy reading his posts–including the ones he writes about the “Clan of the Red Beanie.”

  11. nick,

    The word “some” means an unspecified number. That’s what I wanted to say. I don’t know how many members of the MSM have criticized Greenwald. I try to be careful with the way I use words.

    Oh, good grief! First, some of us intimidate people who comment because we disagree with their point of view. Now I’m being “edgy.” Next thing you know you’ll accuse me of having PMS!


  12. Ok Elaine, relax! If you had used a “couple” or “few” I would not have written what I did. But “some” implies to me more than just a select few. We apparently don’t have a substantive disagreement since you’ve clarified your point. You do seem a bit edgy toward me, however. Welcome back and I hope this is just a flash in the you’re Bruins!!!

  13. Media Attacks Journalist Glenn Greenwald for Reporting Edward Snowden Story (Video)
    By Michael Allen, Mon, June 24, 2013

    NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden has been charged with treason by the Obama administration, but managed to elude the U.S. government with help from Hong Kong and Russia.

    While Snowden appears to be outside the grasp of U.S. authorities, some in the mainstream media are now turning their fire on journalist and lawyer Glenn Greenwald who originally broke the Snowden story in The Guardian, an award-winning UK news publication.

    On Sunday’s “Meet the Press,” host David Gregory asked Greenwald: “To the extent that you have aided and abetted Snowden, even in his current movements, why shouldn’t you, Mr. Greenwald, be charged with a crime?”

    “If you want to embrace that theory, it means that every investigative journalist in the United States who works with their sources, who receives classified information is a criminal, and it’s precisely those theories and precisely that climate that has become so menacing in the United States,” responded Greenwald, according to (video below).

    Later, Greenwald skewered Gregory on Twitter: “Who needs the government to try to criminalize journalism when you have David Gregory to do it?”

    Today on ‘Morning Joe,’ host Joe Scarborough praised and criticized Greenwald for being defensive to the suggestion that he had “aided and abetted Snowden,” noted

    “I’ve given Glenn great credit because he went after the Bush administration, but he’s also obviously going after the Obama administration,” said Scarborough. “He’s a very, very independent person. He’s just been extraordinarily defensive in these interviews that I’ve seen. Which has been disappointing.”

    Ironically, Scarborough himself has a history of being short-tempered on the air.

    Also this morning, CNBC host Andrew Ross Rokin suggested that Greenwald should be arrested, noted (video below).

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