WASHINGTON — As DC offices shut down for the weekend, The Washington Post and then NBC News reported — with vague sourcing — that leaker Edward Snowden has been charged in a sealed complaint with espionage and other crimes in connection with the documents he provided to the Post and The Guardian.
The Guardian's Glenn Greenwald, who has been leading the paper's coverage of the story, wrote Friday evening of the reports, "[L]eaking information about sealed indictments is illegal. Will these same people cheering Snowden's prosecution demand an criminal investigation into that?"
According to the Post, the "officials" said Snowden was charged in federal court in the Eastern District of Virginia with espionage, theft and conversion of government property. The complaint, both the Post and NBC reported, was filed under seal, meaning it is not publicly available.
Neither report specifies whether the officials who provided the information work for the executive branch, which would be bringing the charges, or the judicial branch, which would have received the complaint.
Greenwald told BuzzFeed Friday evening that he has not yet been subpoenaed or otherwise become aware that he is a part of the criminal investigation into Snowden, although he added that "it's still early."
As to the reported charges and the process by which the information of the charges being filed was released, Greenwald wrote, "[P]eople cheering his prosecution don't seem to mind when Obama officials leak classified information to glorify the president politically or help make a pre-election propaganda film."
Greenwald also tweeted, as to the reported charges themselves:
A senior White House official declined a request for comment from BuzzFeed, referring all inquiries about the Snowden charges to the Justice Department. A Justice Department spokesperson did not respond to BuzzFeed's request for comment about the complaint or the reports.
An email sent to Barton Gellman, the lead reporter in the Post stories about the documents provided by Snowden but not Friday's news of his being charged, did not respond to an email seeking comment.
Update at 8 p.m.: According to Politico's Josh Gerstein, the complaint was unsealed Friday — although the "Attached Affidavit" providing more detail beyond the charges themselves appears to remain sealed. Both the Post and NBC stories that broke the news, however, referred to the complaint as sealed and provide the only sourcing for the news to the unnamed "officials."
Here is the complaint, per The New York Times' Charlie Savage:
Update at 12:55 a.m. Saturday: The director of the American Civil Liberties Union's Speech, Privacy & Technology Project questioned the charges.
"The documents that the Guardian and the Washington Post have published should not have been secret. The only harm their publication has caused has been to the government's credibility," Ben Wizner — the director of the ACLU's Speech, Privacy & Technology Project — told BuzzFeed early Saturday morning in an email. "In particular, the notion that the government's legal interpretation of its surveillance authority is somehow 'national defense information' is a dangerous one in a democracy."
Chris Geidner is a Supreme Court correspondent for BuzzFeed News and is based in Washington, DC.
Contact Chris Geidner at email@example.com.
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