The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee has formally demanded that the Department of Justice provide an explanation for its aggressive prosecution of the late web activist Aaron Swartz. The move came just hours after House leaders announced bipartisan progress on immigration reform on Monday, which almost certainly makes January 28, 2013 the most functional and non-awful day in Congressional history.
Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and Ranking Minority Member Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) issued the Committee’s bipartisan letter, which demands a briefing from DOJ officials by February 4. The lawmakers ask Attorney General Eric Holder and other DOJ officials to justify the charges and penalties that prosecutors sought.
Carmen Ortiz, the U.S. attorney in Massachusetts whose office handled the case, previously issued a statement calling the prosecutors’ conduct “appropriate.” While Swartz’s loved ones were no doubt 100% satisfied with this reponse, Issa and Cummings have a few more questions for her.
For instance, are you people prosecuting everyone like this, or did the fact that Swartz “campaigned fervently against SOPA/PIPA” influence your decisions? And what were you thinking with those sentencing proposals, anyway? Also — and we’re just asking some friendly questions here — why the hell was that superceding indictment necessary?? (The actual, non-hyperbolized versions of these questions can be found at the bottom of this webpage.)
So yeah, that probably won’t be a fun day for you, Carm. On the bright side, though, just be glad your fate in this proceeding isn’t being left to the discretion of some oppressive prosecutor.
The panel’s briefing follows claims that prosecutors like Ortiz were unduly harsh in their pursuit of Swartz. The internet activist faced federal charges in 2011 after he illegally accessed a cache of subscription-only academic articles maintained by JSTOR, a not-for-profit digital library.
Prosecutors indicted him on four felony counts initially — which seems like more than enough to us, considering he wasn’t financially motivated and JSTOR wasn’t interested in pursuing the criminal charges — but a year later prosecutors filed a superseding indictment for thirteen felony counts. When Swartz rejected a six-month deal to plead guilty on all charges, prosecutors told his attorney they would seek a prison sentence of 7-8 years at trial. Swartz died in January of an apparent suicide at the age of 26.