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Jeffrey Toobin Preaches on Sanctity of Government Secrets Despite Once Stealing Classified Documents

Jeffrey Toobin

(update below)

On Anderson Cooper’s CNN program, Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald and his partner David Miranda appeared to discuss how Miranda had been detained for nearly nine hours at Heathrow Airport by UK authorities on Sunday. The interview was an “exclusive” and, after it aired, CNN senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin and the Government Accountability Project’s Jesselyn Radack appeared to discuss Miranda’s detention under UK terrorism laws.

Authorities seized all of Miranda’s electronics equipment, which included copies of documents given to him by journalist Laura Poitras. This was clearly done to send a message to Greenwald and The Guardian that they needed to stop reporting on top secret surveillance programs with information provided to them by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden.

Toobin, who has aggressively denounced Snowden, said in the interview that Miranda’s role had been to serve as a “mule.”  Toobin insinuated that Miranda thought he could get away with taking anything he wanted through the airport under the guise of journalism. If that was allowed, argued Toobin, then a person could take “nuclear launch codes” or “names of undercover agents” and claim to be protected from being detained because they had journalistic privilege.

Toobin did not think it mattered that The Guardian had paid for Miranda’s plane ticket. Because Miranda was on a plane with “extremely classified material,” Toobin maintained it was justifiable to detain him under a terrorism law, even though he has no connection to terrorists, because he was carrying material that could be useful to terrorists. Without any evidence, Toobin said he believed Miranda was carrying material on how the government intercepts phone calls or text messages.

Toobin also shared his belief that Miranda was “lucky” because he did not have to spend the night in the airport. He did not miss his flight. He was treated better than JetBlue would have treated him and was not sent to a “gulag.”  He was “delayed for a while and they took what was believed to be stolen information.”

“I think he did pretty well,” Toobin added.

Toobin’s campaign against Snowden and in defense of the government’s right to protect sensitive national security secrets is incredibly hypocritical, given his past history.

In journalist Michael Isikoff’s book, Uncovering Clinton: A Reporter’s Story, he described how Toobin was caught “having absconded with large loads of classified and grand-jury related documents from the office of Iran-Contra independent counsel Lawrence Walsh” in 1991:

Toobin, it turned out, had been using his tenure in Walsh’s office to secretly prepare a tell-all book about the Iran-contra case; the privileged documents, along with a meticulously kept private diary (in which the young Toobin, a sort of proto-Linda Tripp, had been documenting private conversations with his unsuspecting colleagues) were to become his prime bait to snare a book deal.   Toobin’s conduct enraged his fellow lawyers in Walsh’s office, many of whom viewed his actions as an indefensible betrayal of the public trust.  Walsh at one point even considered pressing for Toobin’s indictment.

Toobin was “petrified” that he would have to face criminal charges for stealing information for a rather dubious book deal. According to Isikoff, he either “feared dismissal and disgrace, or simply wanted to move on.” Toobin “resigned from the U.S. Attorney’s office in Brooklyn (where he had gone to work after Walsh) and abandoned the practice of law.”

Walsh’s memoir on the Iran-Contra investigation, Firewall, included more details on Toobin’s act:

During our negotiations over the timing of the book’s publication, Toobin and his publisher surprised us with a preemptive suit to enjoin me from interfering with the publication or punishing Toobin for having stolen hundreds of documents, some of them classified, and for exposing privileged information and material related to the grand jury proceedings. I could understand a young lawyer wanting to keep copies of his own work, but not copying material from the general files or the personal files of others.

Toobin has slammed Snowden for being a “grandiose narcissist.” He has chided Snowden for committing “a crime,” one that any government employee or contractor would have known not to commit because they are “warned repeatedly that the unauthorized disclosure of classified information is a crime.”

As Isikoff and Walsh’s accounts on Toobin show, Toobin is the last person who should be preaching about the sanctity of United States government secrets. He is the last one who should be climbing up on a high horse to share how government has a right to seize “stolen information” because he, himself, stole information.

The documents Toobin stole were not released to a news outlet to be reported on because he felt it was in the public interest. They were taken because he wanted to write a book that would help him make a name for himself and personally benefit him.

Yet, despite his history, CNN has allowed him to go on television and bombastically make declarations like one cannot run around the world with “extremely classified information”  and be used as a “mule.”

They have given him air time to speak such ridiculous phrases as “magical immunity sauce” when describing how journalists should not be allowed to be above the law. But, clearly, Toobin believed he was above the law back in 1991 when he made the decision to take documents so he could hopefully jumpstart his journalistic career.


In 1991, the New York Times published this editorial by John P. MacKenzie on Toobin’s book on the criminal investigation into Iran-Contra. It lambasted Toobin and the concluding paragraph was the following:

Lawyers often write self-praising books, but they don’t usually betray clients and bosses or spill secrets that aren’t theirs to sell. Mr. Toobin is no First Amendment hero but an opportunistic practitioner who searched for contract loopholes while his colleagues focused on Iran-contra. One wonders whether Mr. Toobin, as a junior Federal prosecutor now or in practice later, will need an ironclad no-publish contract to win the trust of his witnesses, clients or superiors.

Here’s the segment with Jeffrey Toobin and Jesselyn Radack on “Anderson Cooper”:

*Hat-tip to Russ Hicks for calling attention to the above material.

Creative Commons-licensed Photo by Larry D. Moore

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Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."