Conservatives and liberals are calling out the Justice Department for not being forthcoming after their requests for information about Aaron Swartz’s prosecution.
The Reddit co-founder committed suicide a year ago on Saturday while facing an aggressive prosecutorial effort by the DOJ.
After Swartz’s death, Sens. John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Al Franken (D-Minn.) and, separately, Reps. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) wrote to Attorney General Eric Holder asking numerous questions about the U.S. Attorney’s Office conduct in the case. Swartz, a freedom of information advocate, was charged with breaking into the computer networks at MIT and downloading thousands of academic articles. Just 26 years old at the time of his death, he was facing up to 50 years behind bars for allegedly violating the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.
“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,'” said the letter to Holder today signed by Cornyn, Issa, Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), and Reps. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), Alan Grayson (D-Fla.), Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), and Jared Polis (D-Colo.).
The Justice Department’s account is “inconsistent with findings in the report prepared by MIT.” For example, the DOJ claimed that the prosecution of Swartz had nothing to do with the “exercise of his legal rights as a citizen,” while the MIT report indicates that the U.S. Attorney said “the straw that broke the camel’s back” in moving forward with the indictment of Swartz was an Internet petition gathering signatures on Swartz’s behalf.
“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,” the lawmakers wrote.
“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.”