As the Justice Department develops a legal strategy for attacking WikiLeaks it will be looking for political cover to defend itself from the charge that it is attacking the First Amendment rights of a free press and will do so by arguing that what WikiLeaks does is not journalism.
The administration’s lack of interest in defending the Constitution is transparent. The question is, where will the pillars of the American mainstream media establishment take their stand? In defense of a free press? Or will they equivocate because they attach greater value to the privilege of government access than they do to their obligation to serve the public?
The Justice Department would have no problem distinguishing WikiLeaks from traditional media outlets, if it decides to charge WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange with violating the Espionage Act, a former federal prosecutor told lawmakers Thursday.
“By clearly showing how WikiLeaks is fundamentally different, the government should be able to demonstrate that any prosecution here is the exception and is not the sign of a more aggressive prosecution effort against the press,” said Kenneth Wainstein (pictured at right), former assistant attorney general on national security, during a House Judiciary Committee hearing about WikiLeaks and the Espionage Act on Thursday.
The hearing was the first to publicly address WikiLeaks. It consisted of testimony from legal scholars and attorneys as well as former Green Party presidential candidate and consumer advocate Ralph Nader. Testimony focused primarily on whether the 1917 Espionage Act should be revised to make it easier to prosecute recipients of classified information.
But Wainstein’s remarks, coming from a former prosecutor, hint at arguments the Justice Department is likely to make if it proceeds with prosecuting Assange under the existing Espionage Act.