Is Journalism a crime?

This is a letter from Rep. Alan Grayson containing information on a blogger/journalist who has been reporting on the NSA spying activities:

For several months, journalist Glenn Greenwald has reeled off one blockbuster article after another concerning the National Security Agency’s pervasive domestic and international electronic spying programs. For instance, Greenwald broke the story that the NSA receives a report on every single telephone call that anyone makes in America. This has incited the spying industrial complex and its allies to launch vicious attacks against Greenwald. For instance in June, on Fox News, Rep. Peter King (R-NY) called for Greenwald’s criminal prosecution. Luckily for Greenwald, although he is an American citizen, he lives in Brazil, and the newspaper that circulated his reports is based in England.

Congressman Alan Grayson, wanting to learn more about the scope of domestic spying, has invited Greenwald to provide a briefing to Congress in Washington, D.C. Given the threats to prosecute him, Greenwald has been reluctant to do so in person. So one month ago, Congressman Grayson sent a letter to Attorney General Holder, asking whether the AG would prosecute Greenwald if Greenwald came to D.C. to testify. Yesterday, we learned the answer. First, we’ll show you Congessman Grayson’s letter, and then we’ll share the AG’s response:
October 10, 2013
Attorney General Eric Holder
United States Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, D.C. 20530-0001

Dear Attorney General Holder:

My office has been in contact with Glenn Greenwald, a journalist for The Guardian, who has reported on previously undisclosed data-collection methods and privacy breaches by the National Security Agency. His reports have been based on information that he received from whistleblowers in his capacity as a journalist, not from personal knowledge. I asked Mr. Greenwald to meet in Washington, D.C. with me and my staff as part of my official duties. He is reluctant to do so, because he fears detention, and potentially prosecution, by the Department of Justice or other U.S. authorities.

Mr. Greenwald, a United States citizen currently living in Brazil, has been publicly attacked by Members of Congress such as Representative Peter King, who on multiple occasions has called for his arrest merely because of his reporting as a journalist on the NSA. The Chairs of the Senate and House Intelligence Committees, Senator Dianne Feinstein and Representative Mike Rogers, have appeared to echo this threat, as have prominent foreign-policy commentators such as Alan Dershowitz and Marc Thiessen.

Moreover, activists and persons connected with this summer’s revelations about our country’s surveillance programs have already experienced government encounters that smack of intimidation. Mr. Greenwald’s partner, David Miranda, was detained for nine hours at London Heathrow Airport in August by U.K. law enforcement officials invoking the United Kingdom’s Terrorism Act. Baraa Shiban, a Yemeni anti-drone activist, was similarly detained at London Gatwick on September 24th and repeatedly questioned about his political work and opinions. Our own government, as detailed in documents reported by Mr. Greenwald, portrays political opposition to drone attacks and similar activism as part of “propaganda campaigns” by America’s “adversaries.” Therefore, Mr. Greenwald is concerned about similar difficulties should he return here.

I regard this as regrettable, because: (1) the commission of journalism is not a crime; (2) on the contrary, it is protected explicitly under the First Amendment; and (3) Mr. Greenwald’s reports regarding these subjects have, in fact, informed me, other Members of Congress, and the general public of serious, pervasive violations of law and constitutional rights committed by agents of the government. Bearing in mind that Mr. Greenwald is a citizen of the United States, please let me know: (1) whether the Department of Justice intends to bring charges against Mr. Greenwald, and (2) should Mr. Greenwald seek to enter the United States, whether the Department of Justice, the Department of Homeland Security, or any other office of the federal government intends to detain, question, arrest, or prosecute Mr. Greenwald, or to monitor or interfere in any way with his entry into or movement within the United States.

Sincerely,

Alan Grayson
Member of Congress

Congressman Grayson’s letter prompted the Washington Post to ask AG Holder these questions. Yesterday, the Washington Post reported on the answers:

[Attorney General] Holder indicated that the Justice Department is not planning to prosecute former Guardian reporter Glenn Greenwald, one of the journalists who received documents from Snowden and has written a series of articles based on the leaked material. Greenwald, an American citizen who lives in Brazil, has said he is reluctant to come to the United States because he fears detention and possible prosecution.

“Unless information that has not come to my attention is presented to me, what I have indicated in my testimony before Congress is that any journalist who’s engaged in true journalistic activities is not going to be prosecuted by this Justice Department,” Holder said.

“I certainly don’t agree with what Greenwald has done,” Holder said. “In some ways, he blurs the line between advocate and journalist. But on the basis of what I know now, I’m not sure there is a basis for prosecution of Greenwald.”

So there you have it – thanks in part to Congressman Grayson’s inquiry, we know what is on AG Eric Holder’s mind if journalist Glenn Greenwald comes to the United States to inform Congress about domestic spying. Congressman Grayson’s view on this is simple: investigative journalism is not a crime.

The postscript for this episode is Greenwald’s response to Holder’s statement, also from the Washington Post report:

Greenwald said he welcomed the statement but remains cautious. “That this question is even on people’s minds is a rather grim reflection of the Obama administration’s record on press freedoms,” he said in an e-mail. “It is a positive step that the Attorney General expressly recognizes that journalism is not and should not be a crime in the United States, but given this administration’s poor record on press freedoms, I’ll consult with my counsel on whether one can or should rely on such caveat-riddled oral assertions about the government’s intentions.”

One way or another, Congressman Grayson will continue to seek Greenwald’s testimony regarding the scope of domestic spying, so that Congress and the American People can hear the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

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