As first reported at emptywheel, federal prosecutors used Aaron Swartz’s involvement with a political manifesto to justify prolonging their investigation of him. Now Swartz’s partner, Taren Stinebrickner-Kauffman, is calling out prosecutors for using the benign writing as a pretext for a politically motivated investigation.
Taren Stinebrickner-Kauffman said she was “angry and really upset” when she learned from congressional staffers from the government oversight committee that a document written by Swartz five years ago was a key element in his prosecution.
“I was surprised that the Department of Justice would be so bold, that their motivation was so political,” Stinebrickner-Kauffman said. “That it wasn’t just one prosecutor run amok, that it was about Aaron’s political views.”
As reported earlier by Firedoglake, the federal government had already taken an interest in Swartz long before the JSTOR affair or any “prosecutor run amok.” Swartz had been the target of an FBI investigation in 2009 and possibly other federal agencies. Due to current noncompliance with a FOIA request by Truthout it is unclear when the Secret Service began investigating Swartz and how the investigation was conducted. The Secret Service officially assumed control over the Swartz investigation on January 4th, 2011.
Yesterday the Atlantic published Quinn Norton’s account of her grand jury testimony in the Swartz case. Norton claims she may have inadvertently been the one to introduce the manifesto to prosecutors.
[Federal Prosecutor] Steve [Heymann] asked if there was anything I knew of to suggest why Aaron would do this, or what he thought about academic journals. I cast around trying to think of something, something that made sense to them, when Aaron had just gathered these datasets for years, the way some people collect coins or cards or stamps.
I mentioned a blog post. It was a two-year-old public post on Raw Thought, Aaron’s blog. It had been fairly widely picked up by other blogs. I couldn’t imagine that these people who had just claimed to have read everything I’d ever written had never looked at their target’s blog, which appeared in his FBI file, or searched for what he thought about “open access” They hadn’t.
So this is where I was profoundly foolish. I told them about the Guerrilla Open Access Manifesto. And in doing so, Aaron would explain to me later (and reporters would confirm), I made everything worse. This is what I must live with.
Norton goes on to detail testimony she gave in the grand jury hearing, which as a witness she is permitted to do under law even though the records are currently sealed. Though it would seem that given the death of the defendant, the disclosure of testimony by at least one witness, and the impact the case is having on congressional legislation, it would be prudent for the judge to release the records.
While it appears that the manifesto gave opportunistic prosecutors the pretext to continue the investigation, what remains unknown is who or what was the driving force behind the prosecution in the first place given the disinterest by JSTOR and increasingly obvious lack of the public’s interest being at stake in the case. The rogue prosecutor theory is getting increasingly shaky as more information emerges.