Last Sunday, the Intercept and the Intercept Brasil published a series of exposés that has created a major political earthquake in Brazil that has only grown and intensified throughout the week. In less than a week, the once-revered Justice Minister of President Bolsonaro’s government, Sergio Moro, now faces widespread calls to resign from the same large Brazilian media outlets that spent years transforming him into an untouchable icon of integrity and uncritically applauding his every move.
Even more grave, the improprieties revealed by our reporting have cast serious doubt on the validity of numerous guilty verdicts issued by Judge Moro and the anti-corruption task force, beginning – most importantly – with the conviction and imprisonment of former President Lula da Silva last year at exactly the time that he was the overwhelming front-runner to win the presidency in 2018. That conviction by Judge Moro, which we now know was the by-product of highly improper and unethical conduct, is now scheduled to be reviewed by the Supreme Court as early as next week.
The archive we received from our source is vast, and contains many more explosive stories yet to be reported. Just last night, we published another story exposing even more serious improprieties by Judge Moro, widely regarded as the anchor of legitimacy for the Bolsonaro government, that has led for more calls for him to resign. Because of the importance but also complexity of these issues for those outside of Brazil, we created a video explaining what this archive is about, what these revelations mean, and why the consequences of our reporting are so significant not only for Brazil but for the entire democratic world.
An enormous trove of secret documents reveals that Brazil’s most powerful prosecutors, who have spent years insisting they are apolitical, instead plotted to prevent the Workers’ Party (PT) from winning the 2018 presidential election by blocking or weakening a pre-election interview with former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva with the explicit purpose of affecting the outcome of the election.
The massive archive, provided exclusively to The Intercept, shows multiple examples of politicized abuse of prosecutorial powers by those who led the country’s sweeping Operation Car Wash corruption probe since 2014. It also reveals a long-denied political and ideological agenda. One glaring example occurred 10 days before the first round of presidential voting last year, when a Supreme Court justice granted a petition from the country’s largest newspaper, Folha de São Paulo, to interview Lula, who was in prison on corruption charges brought by the Car Wash task force.
Immediately upon learning of that decision on September 28, 2018, the team of prosecutors who handled Lula’s corruption case — who spent years vehemently denying that they were driven by political motives of any kind — began discussing in an encrypted, private Telegram chat group how to block, subvert, or undermine the Supreme Court decision. This was based on their expressed fear that the decision would help the PT — Lula’s party — win the election. Based on their stated desire to prevent the PT’s return to power, they spent hours debating strategies to prevent or dilute the political impact of Lula’s interview.
The Car Wash prosecutors explicitly said that their motive in stopping Lula’s interview was to prevent the PT from winning. One of the prosecutors, Laura Tessler, exclaimed upon learning of the decision, “What a joke!” and then explained the urgency of preventing or undermining the decision. “A press conference before the second round of voting could help elect Haddad,” she wrote in the chat group, referring to the PT’s candidate Fernando Haddad. The chief of the prosecutor task force, Deltan Dallagnol, conducted a separate conservation with a longtime confidant, also a prosecutor, and they agreed that they would “pray” together that the events of that day would not usher in the PT’s return to power.
Many in Brazil have long accused the Car Wash prosecutors, as well as the judge who adjudicated the corruption cases, Sérgio Moro (now the country’s justice minister under President Jair Bolsonaro), of being driven by ideological and political motives. Moro and the Car Wash team have repeatedly denied these accusations, insisting that their only consideration was to expose and punish political corruption irrespective of party or political faction.
But this new archive of documents — some of which are being published today in other articles by The Intercept and The Intercept Brasil — casts considerable doubt on the denials of the prosecutors. Indeed, many of these documents show improper and unethical plotting between Dallagnol and Moro on how to best structure the corruption case against Lula — although Moro was legally required to judge the case as a neutral arbiter. Other documents include private admissions among the prosecutors that the evidence proving Lula’s guilt was lacking. Overall, the documents depict a task force of prosecutors seemingly intent on exploiting its legal powers for blatantly political ends, led by its goal of preventing a return to power of the Workers’ Party generally, and Lula specifically.
Photo: Andre Coelho/Bloomberg via Getty Images
The secrets unveiled by these documents are crucial for the public to know because the massive Car Wash corruption probe, which has swept through Brazil for the last five years, has been one of the most consequential events in the history of the world’s fifth-most populous country — not just legally but also politically.
Until now, both the Car Wash task force and Moro have been heralded around the world with honors, prizes, and media praise. But this new archive of documents shines substantial light on previously unreported motives, actions, and often deceitful maneuvering by these powerful actors.
While the Car Wash team of prosecutors has imprisoned a wide range of powerful politicians and billionaires, by far their most significant accomplishment was the 2018 imprisonment of Lula. At the time of Lula’s conviction, all polls showed that the former president — who had twice been elected by large margins, in 2002 and then again in 2006, and left office with a 87 percent approval rate — was the overwhelming frontrunner to once again win the presidency in 2018.
But Lula’s criminal conviction last year, once it was quickly affirmed by an appellate court, rendered him ineligible to run for the presidency, clearing the way for Bolsonaro, the far-right candidate, to win against Lula’s chosen successor, Haddad, the former São Paulo mayor. Supporters of the PT and many others in Brazil have long insisted that these prosecutors, while masquerading as apolitical and non-ideological actors whose only agenda was fighting corruption, were in fact right-wing ideologues whose overriding mission was to destroy the PT and prevent Lula’s return to power in the 2018 election.
These documents lend obvious credibility to those accusations. They show extensive plotting in secret to block and undermine the September 28 judicial order from Supreme Court Justice Ricardo Lewandowski, which authorized one of the country’s most prominent reporters, Folha’s Mônica Bergamo, to interview Lula in prison. Lewandowski’s decision was expressly grounded in the right of a free press, which he said entitled the newspaper to speak to Lula and report on his perspectives.
In his decision, Lewandowski also explained that the arguments that had been used all year to prevent a prison interview with Lula — namely, “security fears“ and the need to keep prisoners silent — were blatantly invalid given the numerous other prison interviews “permitted for prisoners condemned of crimes such as trafficking, murder and international organized crime.” The ruling also noted that Lula was neither in a maximum-security prison nor under a specially restrictive prison regime, further eroding the rationale for a ban on interviewing him.
Up until that point, Lula — widely regarded as one of the most effective and charismatic political communicators in the democratic world — had been held incommunicado, prevented from speaking to the public about the election. Any pre-election interview of Lula, in which he could have offered his views on Bolsonaro and the other candidates, including the PT’s Haddad, would have commanded massive media attention and likely influenced a decisive block of voters who, to this day, remain highly loyal to the former president (which is why Lula, even once he was imprisoned, remained the poll frontrunner).
The Car Wash prosecutors learned of the judicial decision authorizing Folha’s pre-election prison interview with Lula when an article about it was posted in their encrypted Telegram chat group. The panic among them was immediate. They repeatedly worried that the interview, to be conducted so close to the first round of voting, would help the PT’s Haddad win the presidential election. Based explicitly on that fear, the Car Wash prosecutors spent the day working feverishly to develop strategies to either overturn the ruling, delay Lula’s interview until after the election, or ensure that it was structured so as to minimize its political impact and its ability to help the PT win.
Reacting to the decision, Tessler, one of the prosecutors, exclaimed: “What a joke!!! Revolting!!! There he goes hold a rally in prison. A true circus. After Mônica Bergamo, based on the principle of equal treatment, I’m sure many other journalists will also be coming … and we’re left here, made to act like clowns with a supreme court like that …” Another prosecutor, Athayde Ribeiro Costa, responded to the decision with one word and numerous exclamation marks: “Mafiosos!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”
The prosecutors, according to the time stamps on their chats, spent nearly a full day inventing strategies for how to prevent the Lula interview from taking place before the election or at least dilute its impact — from speculating whether a press conference would be less effective than a one-on-one interview, or whether they should petition to allow all other prisoners to be interviewed to distract attention from Lula. Tessler then made clear why these prosecutors were so deeply upset that the public could be allowed to hear from the former president so soon before the election: “Who knows … but an interview before the second round of voting could help elect Haddad.”
Photo: Heuler Andrey/AFP/Getty Images
While these chats were taking place within the Car Wash chat group, Deltan Dallagnol, the task force’s chief, was also having his own side conversation with a close confidant, a prosecutor who does not work on the Car Wash task force. They both expressly agreed that the chief objective was preventing the return of the PT to power, and the chief prosecutor — who often boasts of his religious piety — agreed that they would “pray” that this did not happen:
These admissions of the prosecutors’ true concerns — that a Lula interview could “elect Haddad” and usher in a “return of PT” to power — were hardly isolated confessions. To the contrary, the entire discussion, held over many hours, reads far less like a meeting of neutral prosecutors than a war-room session of anti-PT political operatives and strategists, focused on the goal of determining the most effective way to prevent or minimize the political impact of Lula’s interview.
Athayde Ribeiro Costa, for instance, cynically suggested that the omission of any date in Lewandowski’s decision could allow the Federal Police to purposely schedule the interview for after the election while pretending to comply with the order: “There’s no date. So the Federal Police could just schedule this for after the election, and we’ll still be in compliance with the decision.”
Another prosecutor, Januário Paludo, proposed a series of actions designed to prevent or minimize the Lula interview: “Plan A: we could enter an appeal on the Supreme Court itself, zero probability [of success]. Plan B: open it up for everybody to interview him on the same day. It’ll be chaotic but reduces the likelihood that the interview is directed.”
At no point did Dallagnol, who actively participated in the discussion throughout the day, or any other Car Wash prosecutor, suggest that it was improper for such political considerations to drive prosecutorial strategizing. Indeed, this Telegram chat group, which was used by its participants for many months, suggests that political considerations of this kind were routinely incorporated into the task force’s decision-making process.
The prosecutors lamented among themselves that they were barred from appealing the decision because an appeal in the name of the task force would make them look too political and would create the public perception that their intentions were to silence Lula and prevent him from helping the PT win — which, as these documents reveal, was indeed their actual motive. But later in the day, they learned that a right-wing party, called Novo (meaning “New”), had appealed the decision, and that the authorization to interview Lula was stayed by the court. They boisterously celebrated this news by, among other things, mocking the conflicts that were likely to arise within the Supreme Court (STF) and heaping praise on those responsible for trying to stop the interview:
Paludo added, ironically, that “we should thank our Prosecutors’ Office: the Novo Party!” meaning that this right-wing political party, which was also contesting the 2018 election, had performed what the task force themselves wanted to achieve by preventing Lula from being heard.
The appeal from that party resulted in a judicial stay of Lewandowski’s interview authorization. As a result, no pre-election interview with Lula was permitted and he was thus never heard from prior to the voting. Only once the election was concluded and Bolsonaro won did the Supreme Court begin authorizing media outlets to interview Lula in prison. Last month, Bergamo of Folha was permitted to interview Lula jointly with El País Brasil, and shortly thereafter, Lewandowski granted The Intercept Brasil’s petition to interview Lula alone, the video and transcript of which were published by The Intercept.
Once Bolsonaro was elected president, he quickly offered Moro — whose corruption ruling had resulted in Lula’s candidacy being barred — a newly created and unprecedentedly powerful position as what is now called the “super justice minister,” designed to reflect the massive powers vested in Moro.
That the same judge who found Lula guilty was then rewarded by Lula’s victorious opponent made even longtime supporters of the Car Wash corruption probe uncomfortable, due to the obvious perception (real or not) of a quid pro quo, and by the transformation of Moro, who long insisted he was apolitical, into a political official working for the most far-right president ever elected in the history of Brazil’s democracy. Those concerns heightened when Bolsonaro recently admitted that he had also promised to appoint Moro to a lifelong seat on the Supreme Court as soon as there was a vacancy.
Now that the actual conversations and actions of the Car Wash team and of Moro can be revealed and seen, the public — both in Brazil and internationally — will finally have the opportunity to evaluate whether their longtime denials of being politically motivated were ever true.
These September 28 discussions are just the start of reporting by The Intercept and The Intercept Brasil on this archive.
The Intercept Brasil today published threeexplosiveexposés showing highly controversial, politicized, and legally dubious internal discussions and secret actions by the Operation Car Wash anti-corruption task force of prosecutors, led by the chief prosecutor Deltan Dallagnol, along with then-Judge Sergio Moro, now the powerful and internationally celebrated justice minister for Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro.
These stories are based on a massive archive of previously undisclosed materials — including private chats, audio recordings, videos, photos, court proceedings, and other documentation — provided to us by an anonymous source. They reveal serious wrongdoing, unethical behavior, and systematic deceit about which the public, both in Brazil and internationally, has the right to know.
These three articles were published today in The Intercept Brasil in Portuguese, and we have synthesized them into two English-languagearticles for The Intercept. Given the size and global influence of Brazil under the new Bolsonaro government, these stories are of great significance to an international audience.
This is merely the beginning of what we intend to be an ongoing journalistic investigation, using this massive archive of material, into the Car Wash corruption probe; Moro’s actions when he was a judge and those of the prosecutor Dallagnol; and the conduct of numerous individuals who continue to wield great political and economic power both inside Brazil and in other countries.
Most importantly, Car Wash was the investigative saga that led to the imprisonment of former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva last year. Lula’s conviction by Moro, once it was quickly affirmed by an appellate court, rendered him ineligible to run for president at a time when all polls showed that Lula — who was twice elected president by large margins in 2002 and in 2006 before being term-limited out of office in 2010 with an 87 percent approval rating — was the frontrunner in the 2018 presidential race. Lula’s exclusion from the election, based on Moro’s finding of guilt, was a key episode that paved the way for Bolsonaro’s election victory.
Perhaps most remarkably, after Bolsonaro won the presidency, he created a new position of unprecedented authority, referred to by Brazilians as “super justice minister,” to oversee an agency with consolidated powers over law enforcement, surveillance, and investigation previously interspersed among multiple ministries. Bolsonaro created that position for the benefit of the very judge who found Lula guilty, Sergio Moro, and it is the position Moro now occupies. In other words, Moro now wields immense police and surveillance powers in Brazil — courtesy of a president who was elected only after Moro, while he was as judge, rendered Bolsonaro’s key adversary ineligible to run against him.
The Car Wash prosecutors and Moro have been highly controversial in Brazil and internationally — heralded by many as anti-corruption heroes and accused by others of being clandestine right-wing ideologues masquerading as apolitical law enforcers. Their critics have insisted that they have abused and exploited their law enforcement powers with the politicized goal of preventing Lula from returning to the presidency and destroying his leftist Workers’ Party, or the PT. Moro and the prosecutors have, with equal vehemence, denied that they have any political allegiances or objectives and have said they are simply trying to cleanse Brazil of corruption.
But, until now, the Car Wash prosecutors and Moro have carried out their work largely in secret, preventing the public from evaluating the validity of the accusations against them and the truth of their denials. That’s what makes this new archive so journalistically valuable: For the first time, the public will learn what these judges and prosecutors were saying and doing when they thought nobody was listening.
Today’s articles show, among other things, that the Car Wash prosecutors spoke openly of their desire to prevent the PT from winning the election and took steps to carry out that agenda, and that Moro secretly and unethically collaborated with the Car Wash prosecutors to help design the case against Lula despite serious internal doubts about the evidence supporting the accusations, only for him to then pretend to be its neutral adjudicator.
The Intercept’s only role in obtaining these materials was to receive them from our source, who contacted us many weeks ago (long before the recently alleged hacking of Moro’s telephone) and informed us that they had already obtained the full set of materials and was eager to provide them to journalists.
Informing the public of matters in the public interest and exposing wrongdoing was our guiding principle in doing this initial reporting on the archive, and it will continue to be our guiding principle as we report further on the large number of materials we have been provided.
The sheer volume of materials in this archive, as well as the fact that many documents include private conversations among public officials, requires us to make journalistic decisions about which documents should be reported on and published, and which documents should be withheld.
When making these judgments, we employ the standard used by journalists in democracies around the world: namely, that material revealing wrongdoing or deceit by powerful actors should be reported, but information that is purely private in nature and whose disclosure may infringe upon legitimate privacy interests or other social values should be withheld.
Indeed, in our reporting on this material, we are guided by the same rationale that led much of Brazilian society — including many journalists, commentators, and activists — to praise the disclosure in 2016 by Moro and various media outlets of the private telephone calls between Lula and former President Dilma Rousseff, in which the two leaders discussed the possibility of Lula becoming a minister in Dilma’s government. Disclosure of those private calls was crucial in turning public opinion against the PT, helping to lay the groundwork for Dilma’s 2016 impeachment and Lula’s 2018 imprisonment. The principle invoked to justify that disclosure was the same one we are adhering to in our reporting on these materials: that a democracy is healthier when significant actions undertaken in secret by powerful figures are revealed to the public.
But unlike those disclosures by Moro and various media outlets of the private conversations between Lula and Dilma — which included not only matters whose disclosures were in the public interest, but also private communications of Lula that had no public relevance and that many argued were released with the intention of personally embarrassing Lula — The Intercept has resolved to withhold any private communications, audio recordings, videos, or other materials relating to Moro, Dallagnol, or any other parties that are purely private in nature and thus unrelated to matters of public interest.
We have taken measures to secure the archive and all of its component materials outside of Brazil, so that numerous journalists have access to it, ensuring that no authorities in any country will have the ability to prevent reporting based on these materials. We intend to report on and publish stories based on the archive as expeditiously as possible in accordance with our high standards of factual accuracy and journalistic responsibility.
Consistent with journalistic practice in countries where the press operates under the threat of censorship and prior restraint orders, as has been the situation recently in Bolsonaro-led Brazil, we did not seek comment from the powerful legal officials mentioned in these stories prior to publication because we did not want to give them advance notice of this reporting, and because the documents speak for themselves. We contacted them immediately upon publication and will update the stories with their comments if and when they provide them.
Given the immense power wielded by these actors, and the secrecy under which they have — until now — been able to operate, transparency is crucial for Brazil and the international community to have a clear understanding of what they have really done. A free press exists to shine a light on what the most powerful figures in society do in the dark.
Among the planet’s significant political figures, no one is quite like Lula. Born into extreme poverty, illiterate until the age of 10, forced to quit school at the age of 12 to work as a shoe shiner, losing a finger at his factory job at 19, and then becoming a labor activist, union leader, and founder of a political party devoted to a defense of laborers (the Workers’ Party, or PT), Lula has always been, in all respects, the exact opposite of the rich, dynastic, oligarch-loyal, aristocratic prototype that has traditionally wielded power in Brazil.
That’s precisely what makes Lula’s rise to power, and his incomparable success once he obtained it, so extraordinary. And that’s what, to this very day, makes him so worth listening to regarding the world’s most complex and pressing political questions: As the ascension of right-wing nationalism and populism at times seems unstoppable, Lula is one of the world’s very few political figures of the last several decades able to figure out how to win national elections in a large country based on left-wing populism in the best sense of that term.
So unlikely was Lula’s rise to power that he ran for president, and lost, three times before finally being elected by an overwhelming margin in 2002 and then reelected by an even larger margin in 2006. His eight-year presidency, despite being marred by corruption scandals long endemic to Brazilian politics, was a stunning testament to the power of politics to improve the lives of people and transform a country: implementation of innovative social programs that lifted millions of Brazilians out of poverty and created opportunities and hope for a huge segment of the population which, for generations, had none.
So bold and charismatic was Lula’s leadership that it not only transformed the lives of millions but also the perception of Brazil itself: both domestically and globally. Brazil was awarded the World Cup and then became the first South American country to host the Olympics. Tens of millions of Brazilians who resigned themselves to eternal, inescapable deprivation began to believe for the first time that a brighter future was possible. When Obama saw him at the G-20 summit in 2008, he anointed Lula “my man,” adding: “He’s the most popular politician on Earth.”
Obama was right: By the time he left office in 2010, Lula had an approval rating of 86 percent. And in a highly patriarchal country, he chose as his successor a little-known PT minister, Dilma Rousseff, who in 2010 was, with Lula’s vehement support, comfortably elected as the country’s first female president and then reelected in 2014. Somehow, a pro-worker leftist party founded by an impoverished labor leader became the dominant political force — winning four consecutive national elections and restoring Brazil’s belief in itself — in an oil-rich country long notorious for its extreme inequality of all types.
But then, just as quickly and dramatically as Lula built these successes, everything fell apart: for Lula, for Dilma, for PT and, most tragically, for Brazil. During Dilma’s presidency, the economy collapsed, millions returned to unemployment and poverty, an epidemic of street violence emerged, Dilma’s approval ratings dropped to near single-digits, she was impeached during her second term under highly dubious circumstances, and a routine investigation of money laundering through a car wash in the mid-sized Brazilian town of Curitiba quickly exploded into a massive corruption scandal. Aptly referred to as Operation Car Wash, or Lava Jato, it implicated and sent to prison Brazil’s richest and most powerful figures, including the billionaire funders of multiple parties, PT’s leaders, and, finally in March 2018, Lula himself.
Lula’s criminal conviction on corruption charges last year came under highly suspicious circumstances. All year long, polls showed him as the clear front-runner for the 2018 presidential race. After anti-PT forces finally succeeded with Dilma’s impeachment in doing what they spent 16 years trying with futility to accomplish at the ballot box — removing PT from power — it seemed that Lula’s 2018 return to presidency was virtually inevitable and that only one instrument existed for preventing it: quickly convicting him of a felony which, under Brazilian law, would render him ineligible to run as a candidate.
And that’s precisely what happened. While Lula faced a variety of allegations of large-scale, complex corruption schemes, Lava Jato prosecutors instead selected one of the smallest and simplest cases against him that had long been regarded as trivial but which enabled a conviction to be quickly obtained: accusations that he received a modest-sized “triplex” in exchange for helping a construction company secure contracts. The judge who presided over the Lava Jato investigations and became heralded as an anti-corruption icon around the world, Sérgio Moro, quickly convicted Lula and sentenced him to almost 10 years in prison, a conviction upheld in early 2018 by an appeals court that mildly increased Lula’s prison term.
Ever since, Lula has been held in a makeshift prison cell inside a Federal Police building in Curitiba, thanks to a 6-5 Supreme Court ruling that he could be imprisoned pending his final appeal. An electoral court then barred Lula’s candidacy for president. Barring Lula from running as a candidate paved the way for the election of the far-right extremist Jair Bolsonaro, who defeated Lula’s handpicked replacement from PT, the little-known and charisma-challenged former mayor of São Paulo, Fernando Haddad, by a wide margin.
In a transaction that even anti-Lula crusaders found highly distasteful, the judge who found Lula guilty and cleared the path for Bolsonaro’s ascension to the presidency — Judge Moro — thereafter accepted a position in Bolsonaro’s government that has been described as a “Super Justice Minister”: a newly designed position consolidating powers under Moro that had previously been dispersed among various agencies. It rendered Judge Moro — less than a year after putting Lula in prison and thus removing Bolsonaro’s key obstacle — one of the most powerful men in Brazil.
Beyond his imprisonment, Lula has recently suffered a series of deep personal and political tragedies. In 2017, his wife of 43 years, Marisa, suddenly died of a stroke at the age of 66. In January, his brother died of cancer, but judicial permission to attend his funeral arrived too late. In March of this year, Lula’s 7-year-old grandson died of meningitis. All the while, Lula has had to watch the growth and progress of Brazil to which he has devoted his entire life being reversed, unraveled, and trampled upon by a far-right extremist spouting hatred for an endless number of marginalized groups, while Bolsonaro’s Chicago-trained, Pinochet-admiring economics minister prepares to sell off and privatize national resources, including those in the Amazon, to the highest bidder.
Throughout the election of 2018, the Intercept Brazil, and me personally, relentlessly sought judicial permission to interview Lula from prison, as did several other outlets. Even as the country’s most violent and dangerous criminals were permitted to be interviewed in prison, our requests to interview Lula were systematically denied by a judiciary clearly petrified of Lula’s singular ability to persuade the electorate. Only after the election was complete and Bolsonaro’s victory secure did the Brazilian judiciary suddenly begin granting authorizations for him to be interviewed. We were granted one hour with him alone, and I traveled to Curitiba last week to conduct the interview.
Despite the intense personal tragedies and harsh political defeats he has suffered, I encountered a Lula who was remarkably similar to the one I interviewed in 2016: intense, energetic, charismatic, combative, and highly insightful. I confronted him with numerous criticisms about his own conduct and that of his party — including policies many believed helped lead the way to Bolsonaro’s victory — but also used the opportunity to ask one of the only world leaders with a proven track record of winning with real leftist politics what the international left must do if it has any chance of stopping the inexorably growing nationalistic right-wing movement sweeping the democratic world.
We present the entire one-hour interview with very few edits so that the full vibrancy of our exchange can be seen. It was a sweeping discussion with one of the world’s most incisive political minds, involving a wide range of issues, some of which were about Bolsonaro and Brazil, but most of which were about the dangers the planet faces from collective threats and global political changes around the world. The complete transcript is below.
Read the full interview:
Glenn Greenwald: Good morning, Mr. President. It’s good to see you again, and thank you for the interview. This interview is for a Brazilian audience as well as for an international audience. Everyone outside Brazil already knows that you’ve been unjustly sentenced, a point we’ll get back to in a moment. But many people have also been asking me how you’ve been treated in prison, and you’ve said many times that the authorities here are humane and professional. Is this still the case?
Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva: I don’t know what humanitarian treatment in a prison means. I’m locked up, and I’m in solitary confinement — and it really is solitary, because most of the time I’m completely alone. I meet with my lawyers, and that’s it. And with my family once a week. I don’t know whether to consider this decent. What allows me to endure all of this without loathing it, and with a brighter outlook, is knowing that there are millions and millions of Brazilians living in freedom who, even so, are in worse conditions than I am. At least I have the opportunity to have lunch, to have dinner, you know?
But Brazil is the country you ran for eight years, and there are plenty of people in jail. How do you compare your treatment here to the treatment common prisoners receive in common prisons?
Take the Brazilians who have to live in stilt houses above swamps: They’re living as second-class citizens. A citizen who has to live in a single 9-square-meter room, who has to have lunch, dinner, has to cook, make love, go to the bathroom, and do everything within those 9 square meters — they’re not living any better than I am here. That’s why I’m less concerned about my own situation and more concerned with that of millions of people …
I get it, but are you being abused or tortured? That’s what people want to know.
No, listen: We’ve been fighting for many years to end torture. These days, torture has more sophisticated forms. It’s based on plea bargaining, on the thousands of lies told simultaneously over and over, and people imprisoned for two or three years until they say what the prosecutor or police commissioner wants to hear. I could cite the example of [Antonio] Palocci’s plea bargain, where he’s lying in the most unbelievable manner. Or take Leo [Pinheiro], for example, who’s in prison and lying through his teeth to get out. The secret is to talk about Lula. This has been going on for five years. You know that I’m here even though neither the judge, the prosecutor, or the Federal Police commissioner who launched the investigation have any proof against me. They know that the apartment isn’t mine, they know that the ranch isn’t mine, but they keep up these lies …
So are they mistreating people in order to elicit accusations against others?
Yes, and it continues to this day. I joke with my lawyers that I’d like to plea bargain and denounce Sérgio Moro, denounce the TRF4 [the 4th Regional Federal Court], to be a whistleblower against the commissioner that launched that deceitful investigation, I’d like to denounce [Deltan] Dallagnol. I’d love to, you know, but nobody would accept my plea bargain. Let’s see if you arrange for my whistleblowing to see the light of day, Glenn, because I need to make something clear. There’s this phrase by an English philosopher, that the curse of the first lie you tell is that you spend the rest of your life telling more lies to justify the first one. Do you remember when I went for my first deposition with Moro? I said to his face, “You’re condemned to condemn me,” given the huge amount of lies they’ve told, you know, in this agreement between Operation Car Wash and the Brazilian press. Because Operation Car Wash would be nothing without press coverage. But it’s a collusion between media, television, radio, and newspapers, where the press editors get the material before even the lawyers do. Before the defense lawyers received any news, the press already had. Thanks to this collusion, you’ve woven a gigantic lie. Every day, every hour I keep wondering, will GloboNews ever use the Jornal Nacional to say, “We made a mistake with Lula’s case”?
In the interview that we did in 2016, you harshly criticized Operation Car Wash, insisting that it was selective and an operation dedicated to destroying PT — as you said just now. But Operation Car Wash went on to imprison Eduardo Cunha, who led the impeachment process against Dilma, and also Michel Temer, who became president after Dilma’s impeachment (though he’s been released, he then went back, was released again, but at least he’s on trial), and also Sérgio Cabral, the governor of the state of Rio de Janeiro. And now they’re aggressively going after Aécio Neves, Dilma’s center-right opponent in 2014. After all this, can you really say that Operation Car Wash was launched to destroy PT?
Glenn, let me tell you something: Operation Car Wash has been selective most of the time it’s been running. You’re a foreign journalist, so you can investigate impartially. Check out who made donations to PSDB [the Brazilian Social Democracy Party], and who made donations to PT. How much did PSDB receive, and how much did PT receive? And what about other parties? Conduct a thorough study, an impartial one, and figure out why only [João] Vaccari of PT was sentenced for campaign finances. What about the other treasurers from the other parties??
But isn’t Aécio on trial?
But Aécio isn’t a campaign treasurer. I’m talking about campaign finances to show you that there’s been a focus on going after PT from the outset. Why? Because they needed to take out PT from the government, and since they didn’t manage to do so over the course of nearly four elections, they needed to create clear ways to stir up hatred of PT. Historically in Brazil, and I think the whole world over, this kind of loathing increases once you accuse someone of corruption.
Listen, let me be crystal clear: I think if someone steals, they should go to jail, whether they’re PT or not, whether they’re Catholic or evangelical, you know? You steal, you go to jail. If the sentence has been pronounced, if the facts have been established, and if it’s been proven that you stole, you must go to jail. This is the kind of lawful state we want to establish. Now, I want to challenge the people who imprisioned me to show the world a single shred of evidence against me. I’m not asking for anything else.
But do you agree that Operation Car Wash is going after other politicians, including your opponents from the center-right?
Glenn, Operation Car Wash has been gradually changing into a political operation that benefits whoever participates in it. I’ll give you a tip-off here, a bit of whistleblowing that you can help investigate: Not long ago, we found out that there was an agreement made by the U.S. Department of Justice with what Dallagnol was handling for the Federal Public Ministry, for Operation Car Wash, to the tune of $600 million.
From the U.S.?
From the U.S. And afterwards, it surfaced that Sérgio Moro had authorized another agreement to the tune of $1.6 billion from Odebrecht, here in Brazil. We also know that there are other monetary agreements funding Operation Car Wash, but right now we don’t have access to the figures. In fact, PT is demanding that the leader of the House of Representatives get the Federal Savings Bank involved to help us find out who’s made agreements with Operation Car Wash. Because in fact, any time someone makes an agreement like this involving hundreds of millions of dollars, they’re trying to build a political machine, they’re setting up a racket..
Because in fact, any time someone makes an agreement like this involving hundreds of millions of dollars, they’re trying to build a political machine, they’re setting up a racket.
All right, well, I promise you that we’re working on these issues, and investigating these …
Just let me finish, Glenn, I don’t want to stop in the middle of saying …
The only thing I really want, the only thing, is that my case be judged objectively. I don’t want anything else. I want the judges at some point to care about having hard evidence, either from the side of the prosecution or from the defendants. Did you know I had 73 witnesses but that Dallagnol didn’t even show up to the hearings? He made up that deceitful PowerPoint presentation and then vanished. The only person he talks to is Miriam Leitão from Rede Globo news, and once in a while, he grants an interview. He’s probably going around now on lecture tours to make money. Anyway, I don’t want his beliefs to be the last word. I want evidence to be the last word. If he can prove that I own what he says I own, that shouldn’t cost him anything. In the meantime, I’ve been completely demoralized in the face of public opinion.
We won’t be able to settle this right now. You’ve got your accusations, but it’s a question of evidence …
Listen: When PT denounced the foundation that was set up with these funds, Dallagnol went to Caixa Economica [federal bank] to try sign a document and take over the foundation. Let’s put it this way: I’m being convicted without any foundation, without any dollars behind me, without any funds, and he’s walking free, trying to seize $2.5 billion. We denounced him to the National Justice Council. But who’s going to judge the case? The Council, which consists of, you know who? 8 members of the Federal Public Ministry. So what do you think the result will be? Is there any doubt?
During the 2018 elections, we spent a year trying to get an interview with you, like other journalists, but nobody was authorized to interview you, even though some of the most violent people behind bars in the country, including Nem, the head drug trafficker in Rio de Janeiro, were interviewed in prison. But now that the elections are over and Bolsonaro has won, all of a sudden the courts are allowing some journalists, like Folha de São Paulo, El País, and Kennedy Alencar for the BBC to interview you. How would you explain this?
I have no doubt, Glenn, that everything that’s happened in connection with Operation Car Wash has been to prevent Lula from running for president. Nowadays I’m certain of this, the same way that I’m certain that the U.S. Department of Justice is behind this, and the same way that I’m certain …
Is there evidence of that?
Is there evidence? Is there proof?
I can only have strong beliefs, you know, about everything. The same way that I’m absolutely certain that it’s interest in the petroleum resources of Brazil’s pre-salt layer that’s behind everything that’s happened to me and Dilma. Namely, the coup against Dilma, my imprisonment, the accusations. You see, Operation Car Wash could have had an important role in punishing the businessmen — if they’re guilty — and allowing the businesses to keep on creating jobs, paying salaries. They could have kept Petrobras from going broke, from being sold, from being divvied up as it is. Anyway, I’m very glad that today they’ve allowed this interview, and I’m grateful to you all for demanding this in the courts. I should have been allowed to have interviews before the elections.
Well, we requested the interview a long time ago, before the elections.
I know. And I’m grateful that you requested one. But it was denied. First, Minister of the Supreme Court [Ricardo] Lewandowski allowed it, but then it was vetoed by [Dias] Toffoli, I think, as president of the Supreme Court. I knew that it was a game they were playing, and that the game was: Let’s prevent Lula from competing in the elections. Why? Because the worst nightmare of the Brazilian elite is Lula returning to the presidency. But why exactly, if they made so much money during my presidency?
Yes, and isn’t it true, for example, that bank profits went through the roof during your presidency?
I don’t know if they went through the roof, but they grew significantly.
They did, didn’t they?
But the truth is that the poor ascended a whole rung on the economic ladder. And as the lower classes began to go to university, to go out to the theater, to go out to eat at restaurants, to travel more by airplane, this began to bother part of the elite.
But the upper classes also saw great improvements during your presidency. So why would this upper class, who profited so much while you were president, be so against your return to office?
It’s because this isn’t just an economic question; it’s a cultural issue. One has to remember that it was only a little over a hundred years ago that slavery was legally abolished, and that it continues in the minds of many. That’s why the greatest victims of police violence are black, that’s why those who are black earn 50 percent less than those who are white, and that’s why black women earn less than white women. That’s why those who are black have a lower average level of schooling than those who are white. Why? Because slavery is still prevalent deep within people’s consciousness. It’s a harsh thing to say, but it’s true. And this doesn’t change overnight. If we think about civil rights in the U.S., things began to change in the 1960s, but how many people had to die, including Martin Luther King Jr., in order to guarantee that black people would be treated with dignity? Really, I think deep down, it’s not an economic question. It’s set of a cultural, political, and sociological issues.
Well, let’s talk about some cultural issues. Your government was responsible, for example, for approving the changes in drug laws in 2006, which were a great advance in differentiating between drug users and drug traffickers. But as a result of these laws, the number of incarcerations rose, specifically of black people and of women. Looking back, how would you judge the policies of your government, given that it led to increase incarcerations during your presidency and Dilma’s too?
Let me tell you something. Between 2003 and 2014, we rolled out a range of strategies and approved as many laws as possible to improve the system of policing in this country, to reduce the rate of corruption, and to put more criminals behind bars. If you look at anything that’s functioning well in the Ministry of Justice, you’ll realize that these advances were put in place specifically during PT’s government. Exactly then. Now listen, we didn’t manage to solve the problems of public safety in Brazil, but we did create the mechanisms, including more civil ones, for the police to act more professionally, and we equipped the Federal Police, we set up the National Police, all with the objective of getting things done. And all of this is going down the drain now. I remember when Minister of Justice Tarso Genro approved PRONASCI, the National Program for Public Safety, which was a great initative for reducing crime and helping out young adults. It no longer exists. I think what’s really needed is a series of public policies to help resolve the overall situation. What are two extremely important components?
First, take PAC, the Growth Acceleration Program. You mentioned Nem earlier, and I remember in one of his interviews with a magazine, I think it was Istoé, he said that the president who got the most criminals off the streets was Lula, because during PAC, they lost 20 percent of their crooks who instead went to go work in PAC programs. In other words, if you want to reduce violence, you shouldn’t hand out weapons; you should hand out education, jobs, salaries, opportunities, and hope.
But did this actually work during your presidency? Because for many people, the problem was that violence and crime increased during the PT government. These problems were exactly what Bolsonaro exploited in his rhetoric. Isn’t it true that the problems of …
It did not increase during the PT government. During the PT government, we enacted the greatest policies of social mobility in 500 years of Brazilian history.
But did crime increase or decrease?
It decreased, definitely. It decreased. And there’s something one has to take into account when discussing this in the context of Brazil. One thing is being serious and keeping records of every case that happens, and another thing is just making the crime rate look lower by hiding the crimes. What we emphasized was greater transparency, with the goal of avoiding the same old trend of poor people being the victims. When you can guarantee that a young person will have a job, you know, then he won’t have to steal someone’s cellphone or tennis shoes. He won’t have to kill someone to steal their jacket. This is a no-brainer. When you give a young person the opportunity to dream, to dream “I can have a job, I can go to a technical school, I can go to university,” then this young person will grab and hold on to such opportunities..
I see what you mean.
What kinds of dreams do they have today?
I’d like to turn to discussing the political situation here in Brazil and its relation to international politics, because the whole world is interested in understanding Brazil after Bolsonaro took power. In 2015 in the U.S., it was unthinkable that Trump would win the elections, and nobody believed it would happen, but he’s now president. The same thing in the U.K. with Brexit. The same thing in Europe with nationalist and far-right parties. A year ago in Brazil, nobody believed that Bolsonaro would be elected. It was unthinkable, but he won. Now I know that you believe that Bolsonaro’s victory was due to causes and factors unique to Brazil, like the media’s attack on PT, but right now, can we see Bolsonaro’s victory as part of a larger global pattern in the democratic world of far-right parties overturning center-left parties?
Well, as part of the democratic process in the whole word, shifts and alternations in power are a normal pattern. This holds in the U.S., it holds in Germany, and it holds in Brazil. In one election, the right wins, in the next one the left wins, and in the next one …
But the right-wing is gaining ground in many countries.
Now, look: We had a very extraordinary period in Latin America. The period with the most growth, the greatest distribution of wealth, and of the most social inclusion in Latin America happened between 2000 and 2014 with the elections of [Cristina] Kirchner, [Ricardo] Lagos, Lula, Evo Morales, [Hugo] Chavez, Rafael Correa — it was a golden age for Latin America. We’re now in a far-right phase that’s failing in absurd ways. Macri is a disaster for Argentina, and he was supposed to be the answer. There’s this book …
Why is this happening?
Well, there’s this book by the Mozambican writer Mia Couto, with the following phrase: “In times of terror, we choose monsters to protect us.” Now, when you create hatred within a society, when you create anti-political sentiment, when you take away any kind of hope in people or in existing institutions, then, well, anything goes. I know that Americans thought Trump had no chance. So why did he end up winning the elections? It wasn’t with Putin’s help, as everyone’s saying. It was because of the lies of fake news, just like here in Brazil.
Was that the only reason?
That’s not the only reason, it was because of unemployment, because of despair, and because of this discourse of the shrinking the government, which is always a concern in the air. You know what I mean? When Reagan and Thatcher created so-called globalization, the fad in the 1980s was to say that being modern was being globalized, and opening the economy up to the whole world and letting capital transit freely — even though people could not freely transit. Now that globalization has caused problems for developed countries, above all for the U.S., Trump found an easy line of discourse: “The U.S. is for Americans, and jobs are for Americans.”
Well, it’s not very well known that many people who voted for Obama in 2008 and 2012 then went on to vote for Trump in 2016. In Brazil, the same thing happened: Many people who voted for you and then for Dilma went on to vote for Bolsonaro. How do you explain this?
Glenn, let me share something with you: I know Hillary Clinton pretty well. It would have been very easy to find someone more popular than her. She’s not an appealing personality. Trump’s victory was due to him having the right kind of discourse for the white blue-collar workers, you know, from the automobile industry, who were unemployed. He promised the obvious: more jobs for Americans. He promised to fight the Chinese to create more jobs, and this won him the elections. Now it’s obviously possible that many people who voted for Obama voted for Trump, just like many people who voted for Lula voted for Bolsonaro, especially since Lula wasn’t running for office. If Obama was running, I don’t know if Trump would have won. Concretely, I don’t know if, even in spite of the extraordinary performance by [Fernando] Haddad — if I were to have run, would the people have voted, would PT voters have elected Bolsonaro? Concretely …
I know people who voted for you, and then for Dilma, and then for Bolsonaro.
Well, maybe if I’d been a candidate, these people wouldn’t have voted for Bolsonaro. Glenn, since you’re a journalist, you know what’s happened in Brazil. First of all, Brazil has always had politics based on a monolithic “conventional wisdom.” Fernando Henrique Cardoso had eight years of conventional wisdown that was favorable to him, I had eight years of conventional wisdom that was against me, and Dilma had favorable conventional wisdom when the press tried to create a rift between Dilma and Lula, but then that didn’t work out, so they were against her. And as soon as the idea of impeachment came about, they were 100 percent against her.
There was this climate of hatred running throughout society, trying to blame PT for all of the misfortunes of Brazil, but when the elections were on the horizon, there wasn’t a single viable right-wing candidate. (I mean, normal right-wing, because as for Bolsonaro, he’s comparable to Nero standing by while Rome burned down to the ground.) And in fact, Bolsonaro’s been in office for five months and we’ve never heard the words “growth,” “development,” “investment,” “job creation,” “distribution of wealth” — these words have simply vanished from the dictionary. The only thing you see is everyone making this gun gesture with their fingers all the time, and this is actually the same shape they used before to make an “L” for Lula. I guess Bolsonaro borrowed this gesture from when it was used in my presidential campaigns. The point is, our country is abandoned, everyone only speaks of budget cuts and welfare reform, and promising the society …
Abandoned by who? I mean, during your interview with El País, you chalked up the rise of the global right to the failures of neoliberalism. I’d like to know more about this issue of neoliberalism failing here in Brazil and internationally as well. What’s the relation between the population suffering and their sudden embrace of far-right leaders like Bolsonaro and others throughout the democratic world?
Neoliberalism, as it arose during the era of globalization, is losing ground everywhere. It’s not just losing ground to the left, but also to the right, as it lost to Hitler and to Mussolini. At the same time, we’ve had two recent examples, in Spain and Portugal, of the left coming back during the elections. And even in Germany, where Angela Merkel is a very strong politician, if she hadn’t formed coalitions with the Social Democrats, she wouldn’t be in power.
But even there, the far-right is growing.
I know, it’s growing the whole world over, and I think it’s a warning call for the left, yes. But the right-wing won’t … you can be sure that after Bolsonaro and Macri, Cristina [Fernández de Kirchner] will win the next elections. You can be certain that if Evo Morales runs for president, he’ll win in Bolivia, and that the same will happen in many countries.
I hope that Americans will have the good sense to prevent another term of Trump as president, because he’s not just a problem for the U.S., he’s a problem for the whole world. He has to learn that given the importance of the U.S. on the international stage, he can’t make impulsive decisions without reflecting on their global consequences. He can’t threaten to wage war on everyone, threatening to attack all the time. Enough is enough! We’ve had enough lies, like in Vietnam, like the lies about Iraq, like the lies about Libya.
It’s time to stop this, you know, the world needs peace, the world needs schools, the world needs more books, and not more weapons, the world needs jobs. Sometimes I get really upset thinking about the G20 meeting we had in London, the first one that Obama went to, where we reached important decisions to deal with the 2008 financial crisis, and one of the suggestions was that richer nations, in accord with the reduction in their internal consumption, could enable financial means for poorer countries to develop and to modernize, to buy newer machines, to have greater access to technology and science. But this didn’t happen, and protectionism is back.
But Mr. President, it’s a common criticism, for PT as well, that while you and Dilma have a reputation and a political past as left-wing, your form of government was neoliberal, and there are a number of examples which we’ve already discussed, like the increase in bank profits during your presidency. The same way that the Democratic Party in the U.S. is financed by Wall Street and Silicon Valley, PT was financed by the richest corporations in Brazil, such as Odebrecht, OAS, JBS, and lots of banks. You implemented a welfare reform in 2004, and Dilma implemented austerity in 2014 and went ahead with the hydroelectric dam in Belo Monte that environmental and indigenous activists were against, and you implemented tax cuts for the rich. If you think that Bolsonaro’s victory was due to the failures caused by neoliberalism, don’t you think that PT built it up?
Oh, no, no. No, Glenn, I won’t answer your question before responding to all of these things you’ve just said about PT and my government.
I don’t want you to respond to those …
It’s important to keep in mind that …
It’s a common criticism, that’s why I’m asking.
During my presidency, I never said that my government was socialist. First of all, when you win an election, you have to figure out the relations between the forces that you’ll have on your side in order to implement political decisions. It’s important to remember, Glenn, that when I was elected president of the republic with a parliament of 513 representatives, I had 91 representatives from my party. Collor and Bolsonaro, they had 50. He’s going to need, much more than I did, to construct allegiances with forces who will be amenable to approving what he wants. There’s no point in his talking of “old politics” when he’s the old politician himself! He’s been in office for 28 years. He’s the old politician, and I’m the new one. I had only been a representative for four years, and I didn’t want to be a representative anymore, and he was one for 28 years. So enough of this “old politics” nonsense. And if you want to run a country, you have to work with what you have!
I ran the country that I happened to be in. I wasn’t running France, or Germany or the U.S., I was running Brazil. And when I arrived in office, there were 54 million people dying of hunger, who couldn’t afford to eat breakfast, and I pledged that by the end of my term, every person in Brazilian would have breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I didn’t get the chance to go to college, but I made it my duty to see to it that, since I didn’t have the chance go to college, the workers would. For all these reasons, even though I’m the only president without a college degree, I wouldn’t switch places with many people who have one, you know? I’m the president who sent the highest number of students to university, who opened the most public universities, who launched the most technical schools in the history of the country, who had the largest policies of distribution of wealth, who raised the minimum wage the most, and who helped the most in settling the landless.
So how do you explain the suffering that people felt that brought Bolsonaro to office, after 14 years of PT in power?
Why did I do all those things that I just mentioned? Because I understand that if one wants to solve the problems of Brazil, we have to use the word “people.” We have to look at people and see human beings instead of just seeing numbers or debt figures. Do you want to reduce the government debt in Brazil? Grow the economy. Do you want to reduce the welfare debt? Create jobs. Why was the welfare at a surplus in 2014? Because we created 20 million jobs with regularized work contracts, and because we legally approved six million individual microenterprises. We got the economy functioning. Just talking about cuts, cuts, cuts won’t hack it; one needs to speak of growth, development, and look toward people, not toward the banks. Come on, what kind of growth can our country expect with a president who goes around saluting the American flag?
No, what I’m trying to ask is why you blame the rise of Bolsonaro and other extremists on neoliberalist ideologies. I’m trying to understand the difference in how you ran the country, how Dilma ran the country, and those ideologies. What differences do you see?
Glenn, when we started this interview, I said clearly that PT’s biggest problems come not from its errors, but its successes. Every time that a president tries to enact socially-minded policies in Latin America, they’re eventually ousted. The elite in Brazil and in other countries don’t accept economic development policies that contain social inclusion. PT managed to enact — and this is according to the U.N., not me — the greatest changes in social inclusion in the history of this country. It’s important to remember that during our mandate, it was the only time in history that the poor had a higher rate of economic upturn than the rich. The rich made gains too, but the poor at an even greater percentage. It was the only time in history, and this bothered people. You should have heard it in the Rio de Janeiro airport, in the São Paulo airport, when people said, “This airport is beginning to look like a bus station, with these poor people all around, people who have never taken a plane in their life.”
Yeah, so why is there so much anger in this country, leading to Bolsonaro’s election?
Well now, you’re giving me the opportunity to explain to the Brazilian people what happened. Let’s take the case of Bolsonaro. He had 39 percent of the total votes, not of those who went to the polls, but 39 percent of the total.
In the first round?
No, in the second round runoff. If you do the math, he had 57 percent of the votes of people who picked a candidate, but only 39 percent of the total number of voters.
But he won by a large margin.
It was a third, but yes, he won. He won the elections, but the majority of the people did not vote for him. But why did anyone vote for him? They voted for him because of that phrase I said earlier: “In times of terror, many people choose a monster to protect them.” So there were people who preferred to believe in a lie called Bolsonaro, in a man who preached hate, who preached violence, in a man who hates black people, who hates gay people, who hates poor people, in a man who said that killing was the answer, yes, they voted for him. Why? Because the opposition was PT, and PT had been demonized.
Who knows, Glenn, you know that when they ask me, I say that maybe God didn’t want me to win the elections back in 1989. Why? I lost in 1989, I lost in 1994, I lost in 1998, and I never got angry, nobody ever saw me infuriated about losing. I went back home and got ready for the next election. The hatred all started with Dilma’s victory in 2014 — no, actually with the demonstrations in 2013, and came to a head when Aécio lost, and then rants against Dilma began, and the hatred, the hatred …
They couldn’t accept this loss. But I want to ask you something important, because you just said that PT was demonized and talked about the hatred of PT. And there’s a common criticism that I often hear about your strategy in 2018, which is that you did everything possible to weaken the candidacy of Ciro Gomes of the center-left, who many think had a better chance of beating Bolsonaro than the candidate who you chose from your party, Fernando Haddad.
Because of the hate and loathing of PT in Brazil, because Haddad was unknown outside of São Paulo. And now this is for the international audience: In the first runoff, Haddad ended up in second place, while in the second runoff, Bolsonaro defeated your PT candidate by a huge margin. The critics say that you preferred to lose to Bolsonaro and maintain control over the left with PT, than to have a better chance of beating Bolsonaro if it meant letting another party, namely Ciro’s, represent the left. Is this a valid criticism?
Do you believe this?
Well, I’m asking what you think.
I’m asking if you believe this, you know why?
I’ll tell you what I know. I know that the candidate who you endorsed so that he could make it to the second round ended up losing by a large margin to Bolsonaro, and I’m asking whether this was the right strategy.
I’ll try to explain. My main strategy, my most basic strategy, goes back to 1989. In 1989, [Leonel] Brizola, who I remember fondly, thought he would win the elections. Brizola came back from exile ready to be president, but I was the one who went to the second round runoff. Did you know Brizola asked me to give up, so that he and I could support Mario Covas instead? So I said, “Brizola, if the people wanted to elect Mario Covas, they would have voted for him, so why didn’t they? How would I look for the voters who wanted me in office? Should I give up to support Mario Covas who is way behind?” Really, if the people wanted Ciro to win the second round runoff, why didn’t they vote for him in the first round?
Because you endorsed Haddad and not Ciro, and because your party also blocked his alliance with the PSB [the Brazilian Socialist Party], and gave up a possible candidacy for the governor of Pernambuco all to help the PT candidate. You’ve heard all these criticisms.
Come on, does Ciro really complain because PT had the political means to bring in PCdoB [the Communist Party of Brazil] and PSB [the Brazilian Socialist Party]? What did he want PT to do? Nothing? He wanted PT to talk to PSB, because …
You were the one who said that PT was demonized, was always under attack …
Listen, let me tell you something. Ciro’s gotten learn something, this is important in politics, and if you ever want to go into politics, then learn this: If you want someone to like you, then you’ve gotta learn to like them back. If you want someone to respect you, then you’ve got to respect people. So if Ciro really wanted PT’s support, he could have come and discussed things with PT. I’m gonna tell you a story that you might not know, that nobody’s ever told, and that Ciro never told anyone. There was a time that Mangabeira Unger came to my office and said, “Me, Haddad, and Ciro had a meeting, and we agreed that Haddad would be Ciro’s vice president.” And I said, “Mangabeira, don’t you think you should’ve discussed this with PT first?” What do you think? Mangabeira, and now this is back in 1994, I was at a dinner at his house in Boston with him, with the beloved Marco Aurelio Garcia, with his beloved wife, and he says to me, “Brizola’s gonna win the election.” I had over 20 percent of the votes, and Brizola had none, and he says, “Brizola’s gonna win.” So I said, “Why do you think so, Mangabeira?” And he says, “Because as soon as Leonel Brizola gets in front of the cameras, all of the workers will vote for him!” And I said, “Mangabeira, you must be out of it, this isn’t gonna happen.” Well, the elections came, and I don’t know if you remember what happened that year. They banned the use of outside images, and only allowed candidates to speak directly in front of the camera. So how many votes did Brizola get? He lost to Enéas Carneiro. I ran again in 1994 and had 27 percent of the votes, but there was no second round. Ciro went to the elections, and didn’t run — no, he did, and he got 11 percent of the votes. He then ran again in 2002, and got 11 percent or 12 percent, and last year he ran again. So I lost four times before winning, and Ciro has already lost three times, maybe he’ll have to lose once more. If Ciro wants to make alliances, he has to learn to have conversations, he has to learn how to convince people, and he has to assume certain programmatic commitments.
Well, Ciro will definitely hear this interview.
I think Ciro knows what kind of relationship I have with him. I’ve always had a great deal of respect for him, and I thank Ciro for working with me in my government, and I’ll tell you something else: I thought Ciro shouldn’t have even run for the House of Representatives, because I invited him instead to be the president of BNDES [the Brazilian Development Bank].
Well, this is exactly the reason that he thought he had a better chance than the candidate that you endorsed in the second round runoff. But anyway, I want to take this opportunity to talk a little bit about the challenges that the left faces internationally, because it’s really important, and you are one of the few great leaders of the left in the past twenty years, who managed to win national elections in a huge nation and to reach out to the most destitute and marginalized.
I think it’s really important to hear what you think of the problems that the left is facing worldwide, because in the majority of countries in the democratic world, including Brazil, the left is facing great difficulties in attracting support from lower socioeconomic classes, but at the same time is seeing increased support for higher classes, people with higher education, and university degrees. So I want to ask, what’s needed in order for the Brazilian left and the left worldwide to be able to reconnect with the people, as you were able to do?
Listen, during the economic crisis in 2008, I discovered that the world was lacking leadership. I went to meetings with the 20 main leaders of the world, and I realized that nobody knew what to do. I was worried, for example, about the EU, because the EU had become very bureaucratic, and it was no longer the politicians who spoke, it was the bureacrats, it was this committe and that commission, and everything was a committee or commission without the politicians deciding anything. I thought this was pretty bad, you know.
And in the U.S., Obama also had no way out. I remember calling up Obama during the automobile industry crisis and telling him my plans with the BNDES, with the Bank of Brazil, with the Caixa Economica — with three public banks that enabled us to kickstart economic growth in Brazil and prevent the crisis from strangling us. Obama regretted that in the U.S. there was no way to have such bank involvement, but there were ways to create development banks. Anyway, here’s what I think the left has to do: First, the left needs, you know … there are left-wing parties with 100 years of experience, with 150 years of experience, with 80 years, and PT has 40 years of experience, and I think PT has had a very successful experience.
Now, some folks have said that PT has gotten too far removed from the people. Listen, I would say that PT needs to take a step back but not to its origins — because you don’t govern for the sake of a party, you govern for the sake of the whole society. When you win an election, you have to govern for the sake of everyone, and of course you can choose who you want to focus on serving more or less, but you have to govern for the sake of everyone, you have to respect everyone, you have to like everyone, you have to serve everyone, and this was how I did things. I doubt, Glenn, that you’ll find any other country, during my presidency, I doubt you’ll find a mayor, a governor, or a representative from an opposition party who had anything bad to say about my government, because we treated everyone with decency.
I agree, and you left office with an 86 percent approval rate, and one of the most important aspects, in my opinion, of your political appeal was your childhood and background: that you came from poverty, that you only learned to read at age 10, and that you were a laborer at age 16, like millions of other Brazilians. I want to know whether you think it’s important for left-wing parties to be represented by people who learned about poverty not only in theory while in college, but who grew up in poverty themselves and, therefore, have that experience in their bones and can speak with credibility to the people about poverty and about their experience. Do you think that the Brazilian left, or the left internationally, can manage to do this the way you did?
Well, I think the left has many people who have studied very hard and who are serious intellectuals who can achieve this. What we need is …
But is that the same has having experienced it?
What’s really needed is to be committed to these causes. There’s no way to govern a country if … Do you remember my attitude when I won the election? Do you remember that I put every minister on a plane and took them all to the four most destitute places in Brazil? Why did I do that, anyway? I wanted [Henrique] Meirelles, a banker, and [Antonio] Palocci, a doctor, and [Luiz] Furlan, a businessman — I wanted them to see a stilt house above a swamp up close, I wanted them to see a man and woman having to defecate in the same room they eat in, I wanted them to see the vast number of young girls with two or three kids and no dad around, I wanted them to see the poverty of Jequitinhonha Valley, I wanted them to see the real world as it is, not just the world as it is in Brasilia. What the left needs is this kind of commitment.
You’re not going to manage to govern if you can’t define which part of the population it’s your priority to serve. So I might like everyone, I might like Glenn, I might like Lula, I might like anyone, but I have to choose. Does Glenn manage to eat three meals a day? Does Glenn have access to education? Does Glenn own a car? Well, then Glenn isn’t my priority. The priority are those who are downtrodden, who don’t have what Glenn has, but who need to.
But to make this happen, do you think it’s important to have candidates coming from these neighborhoods that have real poverty and that don’t seem overly academic?
No, what we have to do is prepare ourselves. I prefer that we find candidates who come from backgrounds with popular struggles in their blood, in their veins, but obviously there are many good people out there, not necessarily from poor backgrounds, who are committed to the cause of the poor.
But most important is having the candidates. Do you think this is what’s missing in Brazil?
Definitely. This is why the party … I think what’s missing is more people being involved, more women, more black people, more Indigenous people.
I’ve only got 5 minutes left, and I need to ask you …
I want to know whether you’re going to ask me about Venezuela?
Sure, but I have to ask you about something else too, or everyone will kill me, because it’s one of the greatest concerns internationally about the situation in Brazil: the Amazon — given its importance and what it represents in terms of the capacity of human beings to protect the planet, against catastrophic climate disasters. Do you think that the Amazon is under threat because of the Bolsonaro government?
I do think so, because really they have no limits. The only thing they know how to do is destroy, and they don’t give a damn about the biodiversity and ecosystems in Brazil. They just want to destroy it, and I’m concerned about this, because sustainability and the defense of the Amazon are part of the policy of national sovereignty. Brazil has nearly 16,000 kilometers of borders with 10 countries and nearly 8,000 kilometers of ocean borders. The pre-salt layer is 200 miles away from our coastline, and thus right on the limits of our territorial waters and in need of protection, and Brazil has 12 percent of the fresh water on the planet. Brazil needs to treat our borders, our people, our flora and fauna, and our biodiversity as part of the heritage of all humanity, but administered by Brazil according to our interests. We need to put science and technology at the forefront, along with pharmaceutical advances that the Amazon might contain, as a source of solutions to dozens of diseases around the world. Really, Brazil really needs to take care of all of this. I’m proud of the fact that I participated in COP 15 [2009 U.N. Climate Change Conference] in Copenhagen, when we made a commitment, and Dilma’s commitment to the agreement in Paris. In other words …
But you were also criticized by Marina Silva, who fought for environmental causes, and by now we are all more aware of the dangers that our planet faces. So with this in mind, are there things that you would have done differently?
Listen, Glenn, do you know what I figured out? I came to appreciate some of my mother’s principles only after she died. I didn’t realize how much I appreciated her. Now as for Marina having criticisms, well, Marina was the minister of the environment. She was minister for five years. She has no right to complain, she was minister! I didn’t tell her what to do; she told me which environmental policies to implement. In other words, we obviously couldn’t do everything, but I doubt that anyone else achieved as much as we did.
OK. Well, according to my interview permit, I have a little more than one minute left, so I have one question.
Aren’t you gonna cut me some slack and ask me about Venezuela? Come on.
No, I guess not, because you already discussed this with Kennedy [Alencar and the BBC], so today I really want to ask about Moro, because he’s the judge that condemned you and put you in this prison, and the one who got you disqualified for running for president. And after all that, he was appointed by Bolsonaro as his minister of justice, a choice that many people consider downright suspect, if not corrupt, while Moro’s conviction was upheld by the Supreme Court. And this week it was revealed that Bolsonaro apparently promised Moro the next seat on the Supreme Court. How do you view this new development in relation to the role Moro had in your criminal case and to the fact that you’re here in prison?
There was another disclosure yesterday, which you might not know about: The minister who convicted me during the second trial revealed yesterday night at a debate in Curitiba that she just cut-and-paste the same pronouncement from the first trial with Moro. Basically now, let me look you in the eyes with the utmost seriousness and responsibility and tell you something: Moro is a liar. Moro is a byproduct of Rede Globo news television and the media. Worse than anyone, he planned things out with the Estado de São Paulo newspaper, he visited all the communication media outlets before launching Operation Car Wash, and he wrote an article admitting that the success of any of their operations depended on the press.
A judge who depends on the media in order to make convictions is not a real judge. A judge who is making a conviction needs to go carefully through the records of the proceedings, needs to look through all the evidence, both for and against. So I’ll tell you loud and clear: He’s a liar, the commissioner who led the investigation about the apartment is a liar, and the TRF4 lied about me as well. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t enjoy saying any of this, and I know what the consequences are. What I actually want is for Moro to have to make speeches every day, because the more he talks, the more he exposes who he really is. He was not born to anything but read the penal code. As for me, I have a lifelong commitment to prove that these people are lying about me.
I’ve been locked up here for a year and two months. I’m really, you know … every day I do exercise to keep myself under control, to avoid seething with rage while watching Brazil being destroyed, while watching our national sovereignty and military officers selling out, while witnessing these nonsensical attacks — this is all a state of affairs that I can’t imagine how we arrived at. Brazil in 2008 was poised to become the fifth-largest economy in the world. Now we’ve turned into the scourge of the earth. Brazil was the country who helped strengthen Mercosul, who helped create UNASUL, helped create CELAC, helped create BRICS, helped create IBAS, established meetings between South America and the Arab world, established meetings between African countries and Latin America …
Our time is almost up …
Let me tell you something: This country is throwing away everything that’s been built up, and now is throwing away a dream with these budget cuts at universities. It’s beyond belief that they can be so ignorant. Some of them even have university degrees, so don’t they know that there is no better way to invest in the future than education? This was exactly what we built up, and this is what they’re destroying. There’s only one thing for the people to do, and that’s to react. He wasn’t elected to destroy Brazil. He wasn’t elected for this. He didn’t even participate in debates, he has no plan, he has nothing.
We need to wrap up. I want to thank you …
[As the police officer approaches Lula] I want you to know the following, I want to end with a question that you didn’t ask and that I’m gonna answer. I think it’s not right, it’s just not right, the way that Venezuela is being treated. Venezuela deserves its own sovereignty, they have the right to self-determination, and Venezuela’s problems are Venezuelans’ problem, they’re not the USA’s problems. Trump should take care of the U.S. and stop sticking his nose where he’s not wanted.
Mr. President, again, thank you so much for the interview.
Ever since Tulsi Gabbard was first elected to Congress in 2012, she has been assertively independent, heterodox, unpredictable, and polarizing. Viewed at first as a loyal Democrat and guaranteed future star by party leaders — due to her status as an Iraq War veteran, a telegenic and dynamic young woman, and the first Hindu and Samoan-American ever elected to Congress — she has instead become a thorn in the side, and frequent critic, of those same party leaders that quickly anointed her as the future face of the party.
Gabbard’s transformation from cherished party asset to party critic and outcast was rapid, and was due almost entirely to her insistence on following her own belief system and evolving ideology rather than party dogma and the long-standing rules for Washington advancement. In 2012, Rachel Maddow, upon announcing her victory, instructed her audience to learn Gabbard’s name because, the MSNBC host gushed, “she is on the fast track to being very famous someday,” and then in 2015, Maddow invited Gabbard on her show to herald her as one of the leaders of what Maddow touted as an urgently needed, new bipartisan congressional caucus composed of military veterans in the war on terror.
But by mid-2016, Gabbard committed the ultimate party heresy: She very publicly resigned her position as DNC vice chair at the peak of the primary battle to endorse Bernie Sanders after months of internally accusing DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz of corruptly violating the DNC’s duty of neutrality by favoring Clinton — an accusation later vindicated by emails published by WikiLeaks, Wasserman Schultz’s resignation, Elizabeth Warren’s own “rigging” accusation, and Donna Brazile’s book, which caused Gabbard to publicly repeat her allegations of “unethical rigging” of the primary by the DNC in favor of Clinton.
While Gabbard has compiled a record on domestic policy questions that places her squarely within the left-wing populist wing of the party — from advocating Medicare for All, a national $15/hour minimum wage, various free college programs, and even participating in anti-pipeline Standing Rock protests in North Dakota — her aggressive criticisms of the pieties of the bipartisan foreign p[olicy community, particularly her harsh criticism of regime change operations from Iraq and Libya, to Syria and Venezuela, and her warnings about escalating tensions with Russia and China and the dangers of a “new Cold War” — have further cemented her status as party outsider and heretic from the perspective of Washington Democratic insiders.
I sat down with Gabbard in Washington late last week to discuss a wide range of issues with her, including the reasons she is running for president, her views on Trump’s electoral appeal and what is necessary to defeat it, the rise of right-wing populism internationally, the Trump/Russia investigation, criticisms she has received regarding her views of Islam and certain repressive leaders, and her unique foreign policy viewpoints. This interview is intended to be the first in a series of in-depth interviews with influential and interesting U.S. political figures, including but not limited to 2020 presidential candidates, designed to enable deeper examinations than the standard cable or network news format permits (they are designed to be 45 minutes to an hour, though a last-minute call requiring Gabbard to leave for National Guard duty meant we had 30 minutes for the discussion, which nonetheless ended up quite wide-ranging and substantive):
Last month, the Intercept, in partnership with Sentient Media, introduced our eight-part video series about factory farms, animal agriculture and animal rights, entitled “Animal Matters.” Our first episode examined the aim of the series and the personal trajectories of myself and my co-host, Grant Lingel, that led to our deep interest in these questions. The second episode, released two weeks ago, examined how this movement is rapidly catapulting from the left-wing fringes into the trans-ideological mainstream, as humanity recognizes that its animal-based means for feeding the planet’s 8 billion people is ethically, morally, economically and environmentally unsustainable.
Today’s third episode examines the underlying philosophical and ethical precepts governing how we think about animals and the value of their lives. What ethical or intellectual justifications exist for treating the lives of animals as inherently inferior to human life and thus justifiably exploited and extinguished for human benefit? Should the animal rights movement devote itself to incremental improvements in the welfare of animals, to reduce their suffering on their way to the slaughterhouse, or insist upon a principled consensus that animal life is inherently valuable and thus cannot be viewed as less worthy?
The use of animals for food and sport is ingrained in tradition and culture, though how it manifests varies radically across cultures: some, for instance, find the killing and eating of dogs to be a cause for celebration, while others find it barbaric and grotesque even as those cultures treat equally intelligent and socially complex animal (such as pigs) in a similar manner or worse. Are there rational and coherent lines that can be drawn to explain these discrepancies? As we learn about the widespread, industrial torture and slaughter of animals that has little to do with the pleasing images of the bucolic family farms we were taught to romanticize (and which are rapidly disappearing as factory farms proliferate), how will we continue to ethically and intellectually justify these industrial practices?
These are not easy questions to answer. Episode 3 of Animal Matters is devoted to their discussion and exploration.
A federal court in Texas issued a ruling on Thursday afternoon preliminarily enjoining enforcement of Texas’ law banning contractors from boycotting Israel. The court ruled that the law plainly violates the free speech guarantee of the First Amendment. Following similar decisions by federal courts in Kansas and Arizona, the ruling becomes the third judicial finding – out of three who have evaluated the constitutionality of such laws – to conclude that they are unconstitutional attacks on the free speech rights of Americans.
The case was brought by Bahia Amawi, a long-time elementary school speech pathologist in Austin, Texas, a U.S. citizen and mother of four U.S.-born children whose contract renewal was denied due to her refusal to sign an oath certifying that she does not participate in any boycotts of Israel. In December, the Intercept was the first to report on her case and the lawsuit she brought, and also produced a video documenting her story:
Video by Kelly West
Amawi was required to sign the pro-Israel oath due to a new law enacted with almost no dissent by the Texas State Legislature in May, 2017, and signed into law two days later by GOP Gov. Greg Abbott. When signing the bill, Gov. Abbott proclaimed: “Any anti-Israel policy is an anti-Texas policy.”
But this was precisely the mentality, along with the virtually unanimous pro-Israel sentiment in the Texas state legislature, that the Texas federal judge identified when explaining why the pro-Israel oath so blatantly violates the free speech guarantees of the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment:
In Texas, only five legislators voted against H.B. 89. (Texas Resp. Mots. Prelim. Inj., Dkt. 25, at 4). Texas touts these numbers as the statute’s strength. They are, rather, its weakness. “If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein.” W. Virginia State Bd. of Educ. v. Barnette, 319 U.S. 624, 642 (1943). “[T]he purpose behind the Bill of Rights, and of the First Amendment in particular[,]” is “to protect unpopular individuals from retaliation—and their ideas from suppression—at the hands of an intolerant society.” McIntyre v. Ohio Elections Comm’n, 514 U.S. 334, 357 (1995).
Thus, “our citizens must tolerate insulting, and even outrageous, speech” in public debate. Boos, 485 U.S. at 322. They must do so “in order to provide ‘adequate breathing space’ to the freedoms protected by the First Amendment.” Id. (citing Hustler Magazine, Inc. v. Falwell, 485 U.S. 46, 56 (1988)). With H.B. 89, Texas compresses this space. The statute threatens “to suppress unpopular ideas” and “manipulate the public debate through coercion rather than persuasion.” Turner, 512 U.S. at 641. This the First Amendment does not allow.
The ruling, issued by U.S. District Court Judge Robert Pitman, categorically rejected each of Texas’ justifications for the law. Judge Pitman was particularly emphatic that the law was not merely “government speech” in defense of Israel, but rather a classic embodiment of what the First Amendment, at its core, was designed to prevent: punishment imposed on those who disagree with the majority’s political opinions on hotly contested political topics. The attack on free speech, explained the court, was manifest from the text of the law itself:
It is a content- and viewpoint-based restriction on speech. It is a content-based restriction because it singles out speech about Israel, not any other country. And it is a viewpoint-based restriction because it targets only speech “intended to penalize, inflict harm on, or limit commercial relations specifically with Israel, or with a person or entity doing business in Israel or in an Israeli-controlled territory.” Tex. Gov. Case 1:18-cv-01091- . . . [T]he Court finds that H.B. 89’s plain text, the statements surrounding its passage, and Texas’s briefing in this case reveal the statute to be a viewpoint-based restriction intended not to combat discrimination on the basis of national origin, but to silence speech with which Texas disagrees. First, the plain text: H.B. 89 singles out content and viewpoint for restriction. With respect to content, the statute targets only boycotts of Israel; Texas contractors remain free to boycott Palestine or any other country.
Much of the court’s reasoning relied upon the landmark 1982 U.S. Supreme Court decision in NAACP Clairborne Hardwarde Co., which rejected attempts by the State of Mississippi to hold state NAACP leaders liable for property damage done to stores by NAACP activists whose property destruction, claimed Mississippi, “incited” and “inspired” by the inflammatory rhetoric of NAACP leaders. The Supreme Court unanimously rejected those attempts on the ground that, as the Texas court put it, “the desire to not purchase certain products is distinctly protected in the context of a political boycott,” and nobody can be punished for the “consequences” of protected First Amendment activities, including theories that their speech “inspired” or “incited’ others to take action.
Just as those NAACP leaders in Mississippi could not be punished by the state for the consequences of their political speech advocating boycotts (because boycotts are core protected First Amendment activity), advocates of an Israel boycott may not be constitutionally limited, constrained or punished in any way by the state as a result of their boycott activities. In sum, said the court, “Plaintiffs’ BDS boycotts are speech protected by the First Amendment.”
What makes this ruling particularly important, aside from the fact that it comes from one of the largest states in the country, is that it completely rejected the most common (and most toxic) justification for these laws: that it is not designed to suppress speech or activism against Israel but rather to combat discrimination (namely, anti-Semitism or discrimination against Israelis).
The court treated this cynical argument with barely disguised disdain: “The statute’s plain text makes its purpose obvious: to prevent expressive conduct critical of the nation of Israel, not discriminatory conduct on the basis of Israeli national origin. Texas points to no authority indicating that such a purpose is a legitimate or compelling aim of government justifying the restriction of First Amendment freedoms.”
Such laws are indisputably designed to outlaw and punish political activism that lies at the heart of the First Amendment’s free speech guarantee. As the court adeptly described the targeted political activism: “The BDS movement—referring to boycotts, divestment, and sanctions—arose in response to Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territory and its treatment of Palestinian citizens and refugees.” It is “[m]odeled after the South African anti-apartheid movement” and “seeks to pressure the Israeli government to end its occupation of the West Bank, Gaza, and Golan Heights, end discrimination against Arab/Palestinian citizens of Israel, permit Palestinian refugees to return to their homes, and otherwise comply with international law.”
As the Intercept has often documented, the attempt to criminalize or otherwise outlaw activism against the Israeli government is easily one of the greatest threats to free speech both in the U.S. and the west generally, if not the single greatest threat. The anti-BDS laws in particular have been rapidly proliferating in the U.S., directly threatening core free speech rights of American citizens in the name of protecting a foreign country.
As a map previously published by the Intercept, prepared by Palestine Legal, illustrates, and as the court correctly observed, “twenty-five states have enacted legislation or issued executive orders restricting boycotts of Israel,” and “in every state to consider such legislation, the proposed measures have passed by considerable margins.”
Map: Palestine Legal
The original lawsuit challenging the statute was brought on behalf of Amawi by lawyers for the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). Ultimately, ACLU lawyers joined the lawsuit when other plaintiffs also punished by the law were added, including John Pluecker, whose academic contracting work with the University of Houston was denied due to his refusal to sign the pro-Israel Oath, and George Hale, who reluctantly signed the oath due to his need to work as a radio reporter with an NPR-affiliated station licensed to Texas A&M and who was told that he would not even be permitted to sign his contract by including a notation that he was signing under duress and in opposition to that oath.
In responding to the ruling, Terri Burke, executive director of the ACLU of Texas, said of the prohibited activism against Israel: “By any name, that’s free speech and free speech is the north star of our democracy. It’s foundational, and this decision underlines that no issue of importance can be addressed if the speech about it is stymied, or worse, silenced.” Pluecker, the plaintiff whose work with the University of Houston was denied due to his refusal to sign the oath, said: “People in Texas need to know that our ability to earn our livelihoods won’t be threatened by the state because of our political positions.”
These three rulings from federal courts in Kansas, Arizona and now Texas technically apply only to the specific districts in which these courts sit. But they give clear judicial momentum to an ultimate finding that these still-proliferating laws are direct infringements of the core rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.
Leading politicians continue to support such laws. One of the most vocal proponents is the Democratic Governor of New York, Andrew Cuomo, who boasted in a tweet: “If you boycott Israel, New York State will boycott you.” That tweet touted a Washington Post Op-Ed written by the governor justifying his executive order to boycott any companies that boycott Israel – even though Cuomo himself had ordered a boycott of two American states (Indiana and North Carolina) to protest their anti-LGBT laws. And as the Intercept reported in January, the very first bill the new Chuck-Schumer-led U.S. Senate considered was one to bolster and endorse these state laws.
We thus now have a direct collision between, on the one hand, the attempts by elected political officials to please their pro-Israel constituencies by legally punishing anyone who boycotts Israel (while allowing boycotts of other countries or even states within their own country) and, on the other, court rulings decreeing that such attempts are attacks on free speech rights.
If the First Amendment was designed to do anything, it was to ensure that the latter attempt prevails over the former. This latest ruling by a Texas federal court is a major vindication of this pro-free-speech principle.
The two-pronged conspiracy theory that has dominated U.S. political discourse for almost three years – that (1) Trump, his family and his campaign conspired or coordinated with Russia to interfere in the 2016 election, and (2) Trump is beholden to Russian President Vladimir Putin — was not merely rejected today by the final report of Special Counsel Robert Mueller. It was obliterated: in an undeniable and definitive manner.
The key fact is this: Mueller – contrary to weeks of false media claims – did not merely issue a narrow, cramped, legalistic finding that there was insufficient evidence to indict Trump associates for conspiring with Russia and then proving their guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. That would have been devastating enough to those who spent the last two years or more misleading people to believe that conspiracy convictions of Trump’s closest aides and family members were inevitable. But his mandate was much broader than that: to state what did or did not happen.
That’s precisely what he did: Mueller, in addition to concluding that evidence was insufficient to charge any American with crimes relating to Russian election interference, also stated emphatically in numerous instances that there was no evidence – not merely that there was insufficient evidence to obtain a criminal conviction – that key prongs of this three-year-old conspiracy theory actually happened. As Mueller himself put it: “in some instances, the report points out the absence of evidence or conflicts in the evidence about a particular fact or event.”
With regard to Facebook ads and Twitter posts from the Russia-based Internet Research Agency, for example, Mueller could not have been more blunt: “The investigation did not identify evidence that any U.S. persons knowingly or intentionally coordinated with the IRA’s interference operation” (emphasis added). Note that this exoneration includes not only Trump campaign officials but all Americans:
To get a further sense for how definitive the Report’s rejection is of the key elements of the alleged conspiracy theory, consider Mueller’s discussion of efforts by George Papadopoulos, Joseph Misfud and and “two Russian nationals” whereby they tried “to arrange a meeting between the Campaign and Russian officials” to talk about how the two sides could work together to disseminate information about Hillary Clinton. As Mueller puts it: “No meeting took place.”
Several of the media’s most breathless and hyped “bombshells” were dismissed completely by Mueller. Regarding various Trump officials’ 2016 meetings with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, Mueller said they were “brief, public and nonsubstantive.” Concerning the much-hyped change to GOP platform regarding Ukraine, Mueller wrote that the “evidence does not establish that one campaign official’s efforts to dilute a portion of the Republican platform was undertaken at the behest of candidate Trump or Russia,” and further noted that such a change was consistent with Trump’s publicly stated foreign policy view (one shared by Obama) to avoid provoking gratuitous conflict with the Kremlin over arming Ukrainians.. Mueller also characterized a widely hyped “meeting” between then-Senator Jeff Sessions and Kislyak as one that did not “include any more than a passing mention of the presidential campaign.”
Regarding one of the most-cited pieces of evidence by Trump/Russia conspiracists – that Russia tried once Trump was nominated to shape his foreign policy posture toward Russia – Mueller concluded that there is simply no evidence to support it:
In other crucial areas, Mueller did not go so far as to say that his investigation “did not identify evidence” but nonetheless concluded that his 22-month investigation “did not establish” that the key claims of the conspiracy theory were true. Regarding alleged involvement by Trump officials or family members in the Russian hacks, for instance, Mueller explained: “the investigation did not establish that members of the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.”
As for the overarching maximalist conspiracy – that Trump and/or members of his family and campaign were controlled by or working for the Russian government – Mueller concluded that this belief simply lacked the evidence necessary to prosecute anyone for it:
And Mueller’s examination of all the so-called “links” between Trump campaign officials and Russia that the U.S. media has spent almost three years depicting as “bombshell” evidence of criminality met the same fate: the evidence could not, and did not, establish that any such links constituted “coordination” or “conspiracy” between Trump and Russia:
Perhaps most amazingly, even low-level, ancillary, hangers-on to the Trump campaign that even many Russiagate skeptics thought might end up being charged as Russian agents were not.
All the way back in March, 2017, in reporting that even anti-Trump intelligence officials were warning Democrats that there was no solid evidence of a Trump/Russia conspiracy, I predicted that the appointment of a Special Counsel (which I vehemently favored) would likely end up finding evidence of financial impropriety by Paul Manafort unrelated to the 2016 election, as well as a possible indictment of someone like Carter Page for acting on concert with the Russian government:
But so vacant is the Mueller investigation when it comes to supporting any of the prevailing conspiracy theories that it did not find even a single American whom it could indict or charge with illegally working for Russia, secretly acting as a Russian agent, or conspiring with the Russians over the election – not even Carter Page. That means that even long-time Russiagate skeptics such as myself over-estimated the level of criminality and conspiracy evidence that Robert Mueller would find:
In sum, Democrats and their supporters had the exact prosecutor they all agreed was the embodiment of competence and integrity in Robert Mueller. He assembled a team of prosecutors and investigators that countless media accounts heralded as the most aggressive and adept in the nation. They had subpoena power, the vast surveillance apparatus of the U.S. government at their disposal, a demonstrated willingness to imprison anyone who lied to them, and unlimited time and resources to dig up everything they could.
The result of all of that was that not a single American – whether with the Trump campaign or otherwise – was charged or indicted on the core question of whether there was any conspiracy or coordination with Russia over the election. No Americans were charged or even accused of being controlled by or working at the behest of the Russian government. None of the key White House aides at the center of the controversy who testified for hours and hours – including Donald Trump, Jr. or Jared Kushner – were charged with any crimes of any kind, not even perjury, obstruction of justice or lying to Congress.
These facts are fatal to the conspiracy theorists who have drowned U.S. discourse for almost three years with a dangerous and distracting fixation on a fictitious espionage thriller involved unhinged claims of sexual and financial blackmail, nefarious infiltration of the U.S. Government by familiar foreign villains, and election cheating that empowered an illegitimate President. They got the exact prosecutor and investigation that they wanted, yet he could not establish that any of this happened and, in many cases, established that it did not.
The anti-climatic ending of the Mueller investigation is particularly stunning given how broad Mueller’s investigative scope ended up being, extending far beyond the 2016 election into years worth of Trump’s alleged financial dealings with Russia (and, obviously, Manafort’s with Ukraine and Russia). There can simply be no credible claim that Mueller was, in any meaningful way, impeded by scope, resources or topic limitation from finding anything for which he searched.
Despite efforts today by long-time conspiracist theorists to drastically move goalposts so as to claim vindication, the historical record could not be clearer that Mueller’s central mandate was to determine whether crimes were committed by Trump officials in connection with alleged Russian interference in the election. The first paragraph of the New York Times article from May, 2017, announcing Mueller’s appointment, leaves no doubt about that:
The Justice Department appointed Robert S. Mueller III, a former F.B.I. director, as special counsel on Wednesday to oversee the investigation into ties between President Trump’s campaign and Russian officials, dramatically raising the legal and political stakes in an affair that has threatened to engulf Mr. Trump’s four-month-old presidency.
As recently as one month ago, former CIA Director and current NBC News analyst John Brennan was confidently predicting that Mueller could not possibly close his investigation without first indicting a slew of Americans for criminally conspiring with Russia over the election, and specifically predicted that Trump’s family members would be included among those so charged:
John Brennan has a lot to answer for—going before the American public for months, cloaked with CIA authority and openly suggesting he’s got secret info, and repeatedly turning in performances like this. pic.twitter.com/EziCxy9FVQ
Obviously, none of that happened. Nor were any of the original accusations that launched this three-year-long mania — from an accusatory August, 2016 online commercial from the Clinton campaign — corroborated by the Mueller Report:
Indeed, so many of the most touted media “bombshells” claiming to establish Trump/Russia crimes have been proven false by this report. Despite an extensive discussion of Paul Manafort’s activities, nothing in the Report even hints, let alone states, that he ever visited Julian Assange in the Ecuadorian Embassy, let alone visited him three times, including during the 2016 election. How the Guardian could justify still not retracting that false story is mystifying.
Faring even worse is the Buzzfeed bombshell from January claiming that “President Donald Trump directed his longtime attorney Michael Cohen to lie to Congress about negotiations to build a Trump Tower in Moscow” and that “Cohen also told the special counsel that after the election, the president personally instructed him to lie — by claiming that negotiations ended months earlier than they actually did — in order to obscure Trump’s involvement.” Mueller himself responded to the story by insisting it was false, and his Report directly contradicts it, as it makes clear that Cohen told Mueller the exact opposite:
Equally debunked is CNN’s major blockbuster by Jim Sciutto, Carl Bernstein, and Marshall Cohen from last July that “Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump’s former personal attorney, claims that then-candidate Trump knew in advance about the June 2016 meeting in Trump Tower.” The Mueller Report says the exact opposite: that Cohen had no knowledge of Trump’s advanced knowledge.
And the less said about the Steele Dossier, pee-pee tapes, secret meetings in Prague, and indescribably unhinged claims like this one, the better:
But beyond the gutting of these core conspiracy claims is that Mueller’s investigation probed areas far beyond the initial scope of Trump/Russia election-conspiring, and came up empty. Among other things, Mueller specifically examined Trump’s financial dealings with Russia to determine whether that constituted incriminating evidence of corrupt links:
Because Trump’s status as a public figure at the time was attributable in large part to his prior business and entertainment dealings, this Office investigated whether a business contact with Russia-linked individuals and entities during the campaign period—the Trump Tower Moscow project, see Volume I, Section IV.A.1, infra—led to or involved coordination.
Indeed, Mueller’s examination of Trump’s financial dealings with Russia long pre-dates the start of the Trump campaign, going back several years before the election:
Mueller additionally made clear that he received authorization to investigate numerous Americans for ties to Russia despite their not being formally associated with the Trump campaign, including Michael Cohen and Roger Stone. And regarding Cohen, Mueller specifically was authorized to investigate any attempts by Cohen to “receive funds from Russia-backed entities.” None of this deep diving to other individuals or years of alleged financial dealings with Russian resulted in any finding that Trump or any of his associates were controlled by, or corruptly involved with, the Russian government.
Then there is the issue of Manafort’s relationship with the Ukrainians, and specifically his providing of polling data to Konstantin Kilimnik, an episode which Trump/Putin conspiracist Marcy Wheeler, along with many others, particularly hyped over and over. To begin with, Mueller said his office “did not identify evidence of a connection” between that act and “Russian interference in the election,” nor did he “establish that Manafort otherwise coordinated with the Russian government on its election-inteference efforts”:
The New York Times originally reported, but then retracted, that Manafort provided that polling data with the intent that it go to “Oleg V. Deripaska, a Russian oligarch close to the Kremlin.” In reality, Manafort thought it would be provided to Ukrainians with whom he had substantial business dealings, part of a long line of acts Manafort took to exploit his connection with the Trump campaign to solve his financial woes. Wheeler insisted that “the NYT had it correct the first time” and, in making their redaction, “they got — badly — played.” The Mueller Report showed that, yet again, conspiracists like Wheeler were misleading and deceiving people while using the tone of authority and expertise:
CONFIRMED: MANAFORT instructed GATES in April/May 2016 to send TRUMP polling data to KILIMNIK to share with Ukrainian oligarchs, as we reported. *We initially reported, then retracted, that DERIPASKA was intended recipient, but MUELLER confirmed that, too. https://t.co/xfnnr5KNQRpic.twitter.com/gDes57b9Nh
Also endlessly hyped by Wheeler and other conspiracists were the post-election contacts between Trump and Russia: as though it’s unusual that a major power would seek to build new, constructive relationships with a newly elected administration. Indeed, Wheeler went so far as to cite these post-election contacts to turn her own source into the FBI on the ground that it constituted smoking gun evidence, an act for which she was praised by the Washington Post (nothing Wheeler claimed about the evidence “related to the Mueller investigation” that she claimed to possess appears to be in the Mueller Report). Here again, the Mueller Report could not substantiate any of these claims:
The centerpiece of the Trump/Russia conspiracy – the Trump Tower meeting – was such a dud that Jared Kushner, halfway through the meeting, texted Manafort to declare the meeting “a waste of time,” and then instructed his assistant to call him so that he could concoct a reason to leave. Not only could Mueller not find any criminality in this meeting relating to election conspiring, but he could not even use election law to claim it was an illegal gift of something of value from a foreigner, because, among other things, the information offered was of so little value that it could not even pass the $2,000 threshold required to charge someone for a misdemeanor, let alone the $25,000 required to make it a felony.
Neither the Trump Tower meeting itself nor its participants – for so long held up as proof of the Trump/Russia conspiracy – could serve as the basis for any finding of criminality. Indeed, the key Trumpworld participants who testified about what happened at that meeting and its aftermath (Trump Jr. and Kushner) were not even accused by Mueller of lying about any of it.
None of this is to say that the Mueller Report exonerates Trump of wrongdoing. Mueller makes clear, for instance, that the Trump campaign not only knew that Russia was interested in helping it win the election but was happy to have that help. There’s clearly nothing criminal about that. One can debate whether it’s unethical for a presidential campaign to have dirt about its opponent released by a foreign government, though anyone who wants to argue that has to reconcile that with the fact that the DNC had a contractor working with the Ukrainian government to help Hillary Clinton win by feeding them dirt on Trump and Manafort, as well as a paid operative named Christopher Steele (remember him?) working with Russian officials to get dirt on Trump.
As is true of all investigations, Mueller’s team could not access all relevant information. Some was rendered inaccessible through encryption. Other information was deleted, perhaps with corrupt motives. And some witnesses lied or otherwise tried to obstruct the investigation. As a result, it’s of course possible that incriminating evidence existed that Mueller – armed with subpoena power, unlimited resources, 22 months of investigative work, and a huge team of top-flight prosecutors, FBI agents, intelligence analysts and forensic accountants – did not find.
But anything is possible. It’s inherently possible that anyone is guilty of any crime but that the evidence just cannot be found to prove it. One cannot prove a negative. But the only way to rationally assess what happened is by looking at the evidence that is available, and that’s what Mueller did. And there’s simply no persuasive way – after heralding Mueller and his team as the top-notch investigators that they are and building up expectations about what this would produce – for any honest person to deny that the end of the Mueller investigation was a huge failure from the perspective of those who pushed these conspiracies.
Mueller certainly provides substantial evidence that Russians attempted to meddle in various ways in the U.S. election, including by hacking the DNC and Podesta and through Facebook posts and tweets. There is, however, no real evidence that Putin himself ordered this, as was claimed since mid-2016. But that Russia had done such things has been unsurprising from the start, given how common it is for the U.S. and Russia to meddle in everyone’s affairs, including one another’s, but the scope and size of it continues to be minute in the context of overall election spending:
To reach larger U.S. audiences, the IRA purchased advertisements from Facebook that promoted the IRA groups on the newsfeeds of U.S. audience members. According to Facebook, the IRA purchased over 3,500 advertisements, and the expenditures totaled approximately $100,000.
The section of Mueller’s report on whether Trump criminally attempted to obstruct the investigation is full of evidence and episodes that show Trump being dishonest, misleading, and willing to invoke potentially corrupt tactics to put an end to it. But ultimately, the most extreme of those tactics were not invoked (at times because Trump’s aides refused), and the actions in which Trump engaged were simply not enough for Mueller to conclude that he was guilty of criminal obstruction.
As Mueller himself concluded, a reasonable debate can be conducted on whether Trump tried to obstruct his investigation with corrupt intent. But even on the case of obstruction, the central point looms large over all of it: there was no underlying crime established for Trump to cover-up.
All criminal investigations require a determination of a person’s intent, what they are thinking and what their goal is. When the question is whether a President sought to kill an Executive Branch investigation – as Trump clearly wanted to do here – the determinative issue is whether he did so because he genuinely believed the investigation to be an unfair persecution and scam, or whether he did it to corruptly conceal evidence of criminality.
That Mueller could not and did not establish any underlying crimes strongly suggests that Trump acted with the former rather than the latter motive, making it virtually impossible to find that he criminally obstructed the investigation.
The nature of our political discourse is that nobody ever needs to admit error because it is easy to confine oneself to strictly partisan precincts where people are far more interested in hearing what advances their agenda or affirms their beliefs than they are hearing the truth. For that reason, I doubt that anyone who spent the last three years pushing utterly concocted conspiracy theories will own up to it, let alone confront any accountability or consequences for it.
But certain facts will never go away no matter how much denial they embrace. The sweeping Mueller investigation ended with zero indictments of zero Americans for conspiring with Russia over the 2016 election. Both Donald Trump, Jr. and Jared Kushner – the key participants in the Trump Tower meeting – testified for hours and hours yet were never charged for perjury, lying or obstruction, even though Mueller proved how easily he would indict anyone who lied as part of the investigation. And this massive investigation simply did not establish any of the conspiracy theories that huge parts of the Democratic Party, the intelligence community and the U.S. media spent years encouraging the public to believe.
Those responsible for this can refuse to acknowledge wrongdoing. They can even claim vindication if they want and will likely be cheered for doing so.
But the contempt in which the media and political class is held by so much of the U.S. population – undoubtedly a leading factor that led to Trump’s election in the first place – will only continue to grow as a result, and deservedly so. People know they were scammed, that their politics was drowned for years by a hoax. And none of that will go away no matter how insulated media and political elites in Washington, northern Virginia, Brooklyn, and large West Coast cities keep themselves, and thus hear only in-group affirmation while blocking out all of that well-earned scorn.
Two weeks ago, the Intercept, in partnership with Sentient Media, a new media company devoted to the issue of animal rights, launched the debut episode of our eight-part video series covering all aspects of the animal rights movement: political, economic, environmental, cultural, racial, labor and public health. That debut episode was devoted to a discussion of why my co-host, Grant Lingel, and I have chosen to focus on these issues and why we believe this cause can no longer be, and indeed is no longer, a boutique concern for animal lovers but instead is central to our most pressing global challenges, movements and debates.
Today we present Episode 2 of our series. It focuses on the transformation of the animal rights movement from fringe, leftist enclaves – one that until recently was regarded as frivolous and trivial even among many liberals, and as a caricature of vapidity or light repression by conservatives – to bipartisan and non-ideological mainstream circles. We examine the evidence showing that transformation, the reasons for it, and how it provides opportunities for future growth not only for the cause of animal rights but the ability of humans in democracies around the world to erode staid, increasingly archaic ideological divides.
In sum, the cause of animal rights is about far more than just the treatment of animals, though that by itself would worthy of substantial attention and energy. As bucolic family farms are becoming rapidly extinct and replaced by massive industrial factory farms that are torturing, slaughtering, creating toxic waste, and endangering public health and environmental safety on a previously unimaginable scale, the ethical and political questions raised by these fundamental changes cannot be avoided no matter one’s political orientation.
That’s why bills all over the world are being introduced, and now passed, by lawmakers from parties and ideologies across the spectrum to limit, reform, or even end some of the worst abuses and dangers of this industry. And this newly bipartisan and non-ideological character of the animal rights movements signals not only that this will be one of the next generation’s most pressing political causes but also that it can usher in a new framework for political activism and a new paradigm for how to think about the profound challenges posed by the way we exploit animal agriculture for a food supply for 8 billion people:
The indictment of Julian Assangeunsealed today by the Trump Justice Department poses grave threats to press freedoms, not only in the U.S. but around the world. The charging document and accompanying extradition request from the U.S. Government, used by the U.K. police to arrest Assange once Ecuador officially withdrew it asylum protection, seeks to criminalize numerous activities at the core of investigative journalism.
So much of what has been reported today about this indictment has been false. Two facts in particular have been utterly distorted by the DOJ and then misreported by numerous media organizations.
The first crucial fact about the indictment is that its key allegation – that Assange did not merely receive classified documents from Chelsea Manning but tried to help her crack a password in order to cover her tracks – is not new. It was long known by the Obama DOJ and was explicitly part of Manning’s trial, yet the Obama DOJ – not exactly renown for being stalwart guardians of press freedoms – concluded it could not and should not prosecute Assange because indicting him would pose serious threats to press freedom. In sum, today’s indictment contains no new evidence or facts about Assange’s actions; all of it has been known for years.
The other key fact being widely misreported is that the indictment accuses Assange of trying to help Manning obtain access to document databases to which she had no valid access: i.e., hacking rather than journalism. But the indictment alleges no such thing. Rather, it simply accuses Assange of trying to help Manning log into the Defense Department’s computers using a different user name so that she could maintain her anonymity while downloading documents in the public interest and then furnish them to WikiLeaks to publish.
In other words, the indictment seeks to criminalize what journalists are not only permitted but ethically required to do: take steps to help their sources maintain their anonymity. As former Assange lawyer Barry Pollack put it: “the factual allegations…boil down to encouraging a source to provide him information and taking efforts to protect the identify of that source. Journalists around the world should be deeply troubled by these unprecedented criminal charges.”
That’s why the indictment poses such a grave threat to press freedom. It characterizes as a felony many actions that journalists are not just permitted but required to take in order to conduct sensitive reporting in the digital age.
But because the DOJ issued a press release with a headline that claimed that Assange was accused of “hacking” crimes, media outlets mindlessly repeated this claim even though the indictment contains no such allegation. It merely accuses Assange of trying to help Manning avoid detection. That’s not “hacking.” That’s called a core obligation of journalism.
The history of this case is vital for understanding what actually happened today. The U.S. Government has been determined to indict Julian Assange and WikiLeaks since at least 2010, when the group published hundreds of thousands of war logs and diplomatic cables revealing numerous war crimes and other acts of corruption by the U.S., the UK and other governments around the world. To achieve that goal, the Obama DOJ empaneled a Grand Jury in 2011 and conducted a sweeping investigation into WikiLeaks, Assange and Manning.
But in 2013, the Obama DOJ concluded that it could not prosecute Assange in connection with publication of those documents because there was no way to distinguish what WikiLeaks did from what the New York Times, the Guardian and numerous media outlets around the world routinely do: namely, work with sources to publish classified documents.
The Obama DOJ tried for years to find evidence to justify a claim that Assange did more than act as a journalist – that he, for instance, illegally worked with Manning to steal the documents – but found nothing to justify that accusation and thus never indicted Assange (as noted, the Obama DOJ since at least 2011 was well aware of the core allegation of today’s indictment – that Assange tried to help Manning circumvent a password wall so she could use a different user name – because that was all part of Manning’s 2011 trial).
So Obama ended eight years in office without indicting Assange or WikiLeaks. Everything regarding Assange’s possible indictment changed only at the start of the Trump administration. Beginning in early 2017, the most reactionary Trump officials were determined to do what the Obama DOJ refused to do: indict Assange in connection with publication of the Manning documents.
As the New York Times reported late last year, “Soon after he took over as C.I.A. director, [current Secretary of State] Mike Pompeo privately told lawmakers about a new target for American spies: Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks.” The Times added that “Mr. Pompeo and former Attorney General Jeff Sessions unleashed an aggressive campaign against Mr. Assange, reversing an Obama-era view of WikiLeaks as a journalistic entity.”
In April, 2017, Pompeo, while still CIA chief, delivered a deranged speech proclaiming that “we have to recognize that we can no longer allow Assange and his colleagues the latitude to use free speech values against us.” He punctuated his speech with this threat: “To give them the space to crush us with misappropriated secrets is a perversion of what our great Constitution stands for. It ends now.”
From the start, the Trump DOJ made no secret of its desire to criminalize journalism generally. Early in the Trump administration, then-Attorney General Sessions explicitly discussed the possibility of prosecuting journalists for publishing classified information. Trump and his key aides were open about how eager they were to build on, and escalate, the Obama administration’s progress in enabling journalism in the U.S. to be criminalized.
Today’s arrest of Assange is clearly the culmination of two years of efforts by the U.S. Government to coerce Ecuador – under its new and submissive President, Lenin Moreno – to withdraw the asylum protection which that country extended to Assange in 2012. Rescinding Assange’s asylum would enable the U.K. to arrest Assange on minor bail-jumping charges pending in London and, far more significantly, to rely on an extradition request from the U.S. Government to send him to a country to which he has no connection (the U.S.) to stand trial in connection with leaked documents.
Indeed, the Trump administration’s motive here is clear. With Ecuador withdrawing its asylum protection and subserviently allowing the U.K. to enter its own embassy to arrest Assange, Assange faced no charges other than a minor bail-jumping charge in the U.K. (Sweden closed its sexual assault investigation not because they concluded Assange was innocent but because they spent years unsuccessfully trying to extradite him). By indicting Assange and demanding his extradition, it ensures that Assange – once he serves his time in a London jail for bail-jumping – will be kept in a British prison for the full year or longer that it takes for the U.S. extradition request, which Assange will certainly contest, to wind its way through the British courts.
The indictment tries to cast itself as charging Assange not with journalistic activities but with criminal hacking. But it is a thinly disguised pretext for prosecuting Assange for publishing the U.S. Government’s secret documents while pretending to make it about something else.
Whatever else is true about the indictment, substantial parts of the document explicitly characterize as criminal exactly the actions that journalists routinely engage in with their sources, and thus constitutes a dangerous attempt to criminalize investigative journalism.
The indictment, for instance, places great emphasis on Assange’s alleged encouragement that Manning – after she already turned over hundreds of thousands of classified documents – try to get more documents for WikiLeaks to publish. The indictment claims that “discussions also reflect Assange actively encouraging Manning to provide more information. During an exchange, Manning told Assange that ‘after this upload, that’s all I really have got left.’ To which Assange replied, ‘curious eyes never run dry in my experience.’”
But encouraging sources to obtain more information is something journalists do routinely. Indeed, it would be a breach of one’s journalistic duties not to ask vital sources with access to classified information if they could provide even more information so as to allow more complete reporting. If a source comes to a journalist with information, it is entirely common and expected that the journalist would reply: can you also get me X, Y and Z to complete the story or to make it better? As Edward Snowden said this morning, “Bob Woodward stated publicly he would have advised me to remain in place and act as a mole.”
Investigative journalism in many, if not most, cases, entails a constant back and forth between journalist and source in which the journalist tries to induce the source to provide more classified information, even if doing so is illegal. To include such “encouragement” as part of a criminal indictment – as the Trump DOJ did today – is to criminalize the crux of investigative journalism itself, even if the indictment includes other activities you believe fall outside the scope of journalism.
As Northwestern Journalism Professor Dan Kennedy explained in the Guardian in 2010 when denouncing as a press freedom threat the Obama DOJ’s attempts to indict Assange based on the theory that he did more than passively receive and publish documents – i.e., that he actively “colluded” with Manning:
For that matter, I don’t see how any news organisation can be said not to have colluded with a source when it receives leaked documents. Didn’t the Times collude with Daniel Ellsberg when it received the Pentagon Papers from him? Yes, there are differences. Ellsberg had finished making copies long before he began working with the Times, whereas Assange may have goaded Manning. But does that really matter?
Most of the reports about the Assange indictment today have falsely suggested that the Trump DOJ discovered some sort of new evidence that proved Assange tried to help Manning hack through a password in order to use a different username to download documents. Aside from the fact that those attempts failed, none of this is new: as the last five paragraphs of this 2o11 Politico story demonstrate, that Assange talked to Manning about ways to use a different user name so as to avoid detection was part of Manning’s trial and was long known to the Obama DOJ when they decided not to prosecute.
There are only two new events that explain today’s indictment of Assange: 1) the Trump administration from the start included authoritarian extremists such as Jeff Sessions and Mike Pompeo who do not care in the slightest about press freedom and were determined to criminalize journalism against the U.S.; and 2) with Ecuador about to withdraw its asylum protection, the U.S. Government needed an excuse to prevent Assange from walking free.
A technical analysis of the indictment’s claims similarly proves the charge against Assange to be a serious threat to First Amendment press liberties, primarily because it seeks to criminalize what is actually a journalist’s core duty: helping one’s source avoid detection. The indictment deceitfully seeks to cast Assange’s efforts to help Manning maintain her anonymity as some sort of sinister hacking attack.
The Defense Department computer that Manning used to download the documents which she then furnished to WikiLeaks was likely running the Windows operating system. It had multiple user accounts on it, including an account to which Manning had legitimate access. Each account is protected by a password, and Windows computers store a file that contains a list of usernames and password “hashes,” or scrambled versions of the passwords. Only accounts designated as “administrator,” a designation Manning’s account lacked, have permission to access this file.
The indictment suggests that Manning, in order to access this password file, powered off her computer and then powered it back on, this time booting to a CD running the Linux operating system. From within Linux, she allegedly accessed this file full of password hashes. The indictment alleges that Assange agreed to try to crack one of these password hashes, which, if successful, would recover the original password. With the original password, Manning would be able to log directly into that other user’s account, which – as the indictment puts it – “would have made it more difficult for investigators to identify Manning as the source of disclosures of classified information.”
Assange appears to have been unsuccessful in cracking the password. The indictment alleges that “Assange indicated that he had been trying to crack the password by stating that he had ‘no luck so far.’”
Thus, even if one accepts all of the indictment’s claims as true, Assange was not trying to hack into new document files to which Manning had no access but rather trying to help Manning avoid detection as a source. For that reason, the precedent that this case would set would be a devastating blow to investigative journalists and press freedom everywhere.
Journalists have an ethical obligation to take steps to protect their sources from retaliation, which sometimes includes granting them anonymity and employing technical measures to help ensure that their identity is not discovered. When journalists take source protection seriously, they strip metadata and redact information from documents before publishing them if that information could have been used to identify their source; they host cloud-based systems such as SecureDrop, now employed by dozens of major newsrooms around the world, that make it easier and safer for whistleblowers, who may be under surveillance, to send messages and classified documents to journalists without their employers knowing; and they use secure communication tools like Signal, and set them to automatically delete messages.
But today’s indictment of Assange seeks to criminalize exactly these types of source-protection efforts, as it states that “it was part of the conspiracy that Assange and Manning used a special folder on a cloud drop box of WikiLeaks to transmit classified records containing information related to the national defense of the United States.”
The indictment, in numerous other passages, plainly conflates standard newsroom best practices with a criminal conspiracy. It states, for instance, that “it was part of the conspiracy that Assange and Manning used the ‘Jabber’ online chat service to collaborate on the acquisition and dissemination of the classified records, and to enter into the agreement to crack the password […].” There is no question that using Jabber, or any other encrypted messaging system, to communicate with sources and acquire documents with the intent to publish them, is a completely lawful and standard part of modern investigative journalism. Newsrooms across the world now use similar technologies to communicate securely with their sources and to help their sources avoid detection by the government.
The indictment similarly alleges that “it was part of the conspiracy that Assange and Manning took measures to conceal Manning as the source of the disclosure of classified records to WikiLeaks, including by removing usernames from the disclosed information and deleting chat logs between Assange and Manning.”
Removing metadata that could help identify an anonymous source, such as usernames, is a critical step in protecting sources. Indeed, in 2017, the Intercept published a top secret NSA document claiming that Russian military intelligence played a role in hacking U.S. election infrastructure during the 2016 election. The person accused and convicted of having provided the document, whistleblower Reality Winner, had already been arrested by the time the story was published.
The Intercept was widely criticized when computer security experts discovered that the document included nearly-invisible yellow “printer dots” that track exactly when and where it was printed, which most modern printers add to every document that gets printed. While there’s no evidence that these printer dots contributed to Winner becoming a suspect (the FBI’s affidavit says she was one of only six people who had printed this document, and the only one of those who had email contact with The Intercept), they could have aided an investigation, and the Intercept, as its editor-in-chief acknowledged, should have taken greater care to remove this metadata before publishing the document.
That is because it is not only common but ethically required for a journalist to do everything possible to protect a source from detection. Virtually the entirety of the accusations against Assange in today’s indictment consist of him doing exactly that.
Assange is a deeply polarizing figure. That’s almost certainly why the Trump DOJ believes it could get away with indicting him based on a theory that would clearly endanger core journalistic functions: because it hopes that the intense animosity for Assange personally will blind people to the dangers this indictment poses.
But far more important than one’s personal feelings about Assange is the huge step this indictment represents in the Trump administration’s explicitly stated goal to criminalize journalism that involves reporting on classified information. Opposition to that menacing goal does not require admiration or affection for Assange. It simply requires a belief in the critical importance of a free press in a democracy.
With remarkable speed, the cause of animal rights and the abuses of industrial animal agriculture have been catapulted from fringe left-wing activist circles to the center of a wide range of non-ideological policy, ethical, environmental, political, and moral debates. That has happened, as is true of most societal changes, largely due to increased awareness and greater information, which in turn compels a shift in thinking about how our actions, policies, and beliefs should be best understood.
For years, the horrific realities of factory farms and industrial agriculture were — by extensive design — kept almost completely hidden from public view. Using their lobbyist-driven control over both federal regulatory agencies and state legislatures, the industry succeeded in having implemented a series of laws that criminalized key methods for reporting on their abuses and imposed absurdly excessive punishments on activists who worked to expose them, to the point of classifying activism against the industry as a form of terrorism, complete with draconian prison sentences and harsh incarceration conditions.
But that secrecy has crumbled. Courts have ruled so-called ag-gag laws — which criminalized undercover reporting on factory farms — to be unconstitutional on free speech and free press grounds. Increasingly creative means used by activists, such as virtual reality filming, as well as the emergence of more and more whistleblowers of conscience from within the industry, have led to mass public exposure of the atrocities and evils that this industry has worked so hard for decades, with great success, to conceal from public view.
Being forced to confront the indescribable torture and suffering of billions of highly complex and socially intelligent animals each year — along with the vast damage that industry practices are causing to the environment, communities around the world, and public health — has rendered all of this unsustainable. The increasingly important role that animals, particularly dogs, play in the lives of humans who now live and work in a globalized society incapable of meeting humans’ basic psychological needs, has independently changed how millions of people think about the capacity of animals to suffer.
All of these changes mean that a specific political ideology is no longer required to view the cause of animal rights and the abuses of industrial agriculture as a matter of great ethical, political, and public policy importance. It is clear that the time for humanity to grapple with its treatment of animals, and the multilevel damage being done in order to feed the planet through the use of animals, has arrived.
Beginning with the first report that The Intercept published about industrial agriculture — our October 2017, exposé on the abuses of pigs at Smithfield Farms, the abuses of law enforcement resources by the U.S. government to protect this industry from transparency, and the abuse of the legislative process to silence reporting — we quickly realized that the appetite for reporting and discussion on this industry was far greater than we had previously realized. In Washington, multiple bills to curb the worst abuses of this industry are now pending with truly bipartisan support, and are beginning to pass.
The realization is now pervasive that these practices extend far beyond the mere question of whether we should treat animals humanely. They extend to profound questions of environmental protection, racial and economic justice, the treatment of workers, and threats to public health, questions that large numbers of people are realizing can no longer be avoided.
To explore all of these vital issues, and to attempt to discuss them free of the jargon and dogma that has sometimes limited the reach of reporting on this industry, The Intercept has partnered with Sentient Media, a new media company devoted to the issue of animal rights, to produce an eight-episode video series, titled “Animal Matters.” Filmed at the homeless-run dog shelter my husband and I created in Brazil, the episodes entail discussions between myself and Grant Lingel, who works in the corporate world but is increasingly devoting himself to the cause of fighting against the abuses of this industry.
Each video episode will be between 10 to 20 minutes long, cover a specific topic or debate that is central to these questions, and be released in various venues online — including here at The Intercept — once every two weeks. Our first episode debuts today. It is designed to discuss the purpose of this series, what led us to this cause, and what we hope to accomplish with “Animal Matters.”
I obviously intended to write about the fallout of Attorney General William Barr’s summary of the Mueller report: specifically his definitive finding that “the Special Counsel did not find that the Trump campaign, or anyone associated with it, conspired or coordinated with the Russian government” and that “the report does not recommend any further indictments, nor did the Special Counsel obtain any sealed indictments that have yet to be made public.” Those two sentences alone permanently destroyed the prevailing Trump/Russia narratives – from blackmail fantasies to collusion tales – that consumed most of U.S. politics and media discourse for much of the last three years.
Just two weeks ago – three weeks ago – former CIA Director and now NBC News analyst John Brennan confidently predicted that Mueller was just weeks if not days away from arresting members “of the Trump family” on charges of conspiring with the Russians as his final act. Just watch the deceitful, propagandistic trash tha MSNBC in particular fed to their viewers for two straight years, all while essentially banning any dissenters or skeptics of the narrative they peddled to the great profit of the network and its stars:
You can't blame MSNBC viewers for being confused. They largely kept dissenters from their Trump/Russia spy tale off the air for 2 years. As recently as 2 weeks ago, they had @JohnBrennan strongly suggesting Mueller would indict Trump family members on collusion as his last act: pic.twitter.com/nPlaq5YVxf
But what prevented me from writing anything is that Matt Taibbi brilliantly wrote everything I wanted to say in this definitive article on the debacle, one that I urge everyone to read. It lays out in indisputable, horrific detail the media’s indescribably and relentlessly reckless behavior over the last three years, whereby they abused and exploited valid fears of Trump to sell – for their own profit and benefit – completely false and baseless conspiracy theories that have now been completely debunked by their own anointed authority. I won’t excerpt any parts of it because it should be read in full by as many people as possible.
As Taibbi says, while the Iraq War was far worse in terms of impact (at least thus far), the media’s endless series of deceitful and manipulative behavior and spreading of blatantly false conspiracy theories since 2016 was far worse. In sum, Rachel Maddow is the Judy Miller of the Trump/Russia story, except that unlike Miller – who was scapegoated for behavior that many of her male colleagues also engaged in to the point where he career and reputation was destroyed – Maddow, who makes $10 million a year from NBC, is too valuable a corporate brand and too much of a liberal celebrity for any consequences or accountability to be permitted. Another difference is that Maddow was so far more frequently off the deep end – way off the deep end, in another universe totally devoid of basically rationality – than Miller ever was.
In lieu of trying to add to anything Taibbi wrote, I will instead post the video debate I had this morning with Pulitzer-Prize-winning journalist and Trump/Russia believer David Cay Johnston on Democracy Now this morning. Though this debate was often contentious, I think it was quite substantive and illuminates all of the points I believe need to be made right now about the implications of this utter political and media failure of historic proportions: