On Friday afternoon New York Times media reporter Marc Tracy wrote us to ask if we might be available to discuss the superseding indictment of Julian Assange before a Tuesday evening deadline. I promptly gave Marc my personal contact information and invited him to fire away. He didn’t get around to posing a question until 11:00 p.m. last night. Here is what’s cooking in his kitchen:
Basically we are writing about the indictment against Assange. I deduce from your post that you are in favor of the broader, superseding indictment. Here are a few questions:
-Tell me a little about yourself, and how you came to this field.
-Do you agree with the government’s decision to charge Assange, including for things that many say are similar to what other national security reporters do. Eg, this is not just the 18th count, which was in the previous indictment, but the ones that strive to criminalize his contacts with his source that sought to protect the source’s identity; and to publish the classified information?
-Do you see a meaningful difference between Assange and, say, nat sec reporters at the WaPo or NYT?
-Do you see a link between the government’s increased willingness to prosecute leakers of classified information and, now, this prosecution against a publisher of that information?
Coming from the Times, these questions hit home. I don’t feel capable of doing justice to them, but I responded this morning as follows:
Marc: I am a Minneapolis attorney who has been writing about politics and public policy for newspapers and magazines for nearly 30 years. I have written for the Power Line site nearly every day since we founded it 17 years ago. In 2004 I was involved in the exposure of the Rathergate fraud on Power Line. For a symposium published on election day 2004 the Times invited my colleague John Hinderaker and me to contribute a short piece discussing our role. If there is more you would like to know about me, I would be happy to answer specific questions.
The publication by the New York Times of highly classified information for reasons of pure political malice has been a special interest of mine. I wrote about it in the 2006 Weekly Standard column “Exposure” (accessible online here: https://www.weeklystandard.com/scott-w-johnson/exposure) and have written about it frequently on Power Line. In my Standard column, for example, I specifically asked “Is the New York Times a law unto itself?”
I support the enforcement of the Espionage Act laws with discretion, such as in cases involving the publication of highly classified information of the kind that is protected from publication by the Espionage Act with absolutely no bona fide public purpose, or no purpose other than rank partisan politics.
Yesterday I cited two egregious 2017 instances involving the Times in the Power Line post “Tears of the Times” (URL: https://www.powerlineblog.com/archives/2019/05/tears-of-the-times.php). I cited these cases in the context of the Times story by Barnes and Sanger on the Trump declassification order. Barnes and Sanger seem all choked up by President Trump’s lawful authorization of Attorney General Barr to declassify documents bearing on the Russiagate hoax. The Times wants to reserve to itself the authority to determine which highly classified information is to be exposed to the enemies of the United States. I don’t. Accordingly, I advocated for the prosecution of the Times under the Espionage Act in 2005 and 2006. My work on Power Line elicited this letter to the editor of the Times from then-Lieutenant Tom Cotton serving in Baghdad:
Dear Messrs. Keller, Lichtblau & Risen:
Congratulations on disclosing our government’s highly classified anti-terrorist-financing program (June 23[, 2006]). I apologize for not writing sooner. But I am a lieutenant in the United States Army and I spent the last four days patrolling one of the more dangerous areas in Iraq. (Alas, operational security and common sense prevent me from even revealing this unclassified location in a private medium like email.)
Unfortunately, as I supervised my soldiers late one night, I heard a booming explosion several miles away. I learned a few hours later that a powerful roadside bomb killed one soldier and severely injured another from my 130-man company. I deeply hope that we can find and kill or capture the terrorists responsible for that bomb. But, of course, these terrorists do not spring from the soil like Plato’s guardians. No, they require financing to obtain mortars and artillery shells, priming explosives, wiring and circuitry, not to mention for training and payments to locals willing to emplace bombs in exchange for a few months’ salary. As your story states, the program was legal, briefed to Congress, supported in the government and financial industry, and very successful.
Not anymore. You may think you have done a public service, but you have gravely endangered the lives of my soldiers and all other soldiers and innocent Iraqis here. Next time I hear that familiar explosion — or next time I feel it — I will wonder whether we could have stopped that bomb had you not instructed terrorists how to evade our financial surveillance.
And, by the way, having graduated from Harvard Law and practiced with a federal appellate judge and two Washington law firms before becoming an infantry officer, I am well-versed in the espionage laws relevant to this story and others — laws you have plainly violated. I hope that my colleagues at the Department of Justice match the courage of my soldiers here and prosecute you and your newspaper to the fullest extent of the law. By the time we return home, maybe you will be in your rightful place: not at the Pulitzer announcements, but behind bars.
Very truly yours,
Then-Lieutenant Cotton copied Power Line on his letter to the editor of the Times. We promptly published it. Even though the Time has since interviewed Senator Cotton about his letter to the editor, the Times has never seen fit to publish it. The Times has failed utterly in its duty to air the issues raised by its own conduct bearing on enforcement of egregious violations of the Espionage Act.
If you have any follow-up questions, please feel free to contact me. In the meantime, thank you for contacting us in connection with your interest in the issues.
Scott W. Johnson
This is a progress report. I am a realist. My expectations are low. The Times has never exceeded them. I am therefore prepared to be disappointed. We will take a look back in the spirit of inquiry when the Times publishes Marc Tracy’s story.