The in-house counsel for the Intercept received a subpoena from the Justice Department for all contracts and communications between journalist Barrett Brown and the editor, Roger Hodge, who he worked with at the media organization. The subpoena also requested information on payments the Intercept made to him for his column, which he wrote while in federal prison.
Brown was released from prison on November 29, 2016, after serving a prison sentence which stemmed from pleading guilty to threatening an FBI agent, obstructing justice, and being an accessory to a cyber attack. He spent two years in pretrial incarceration prior to his sentence in 2014.
Brown said there are a couple “broad possibilities” for why the government would subpoena the Intercept.
“One is that it’s just harassment. One is that they may be looking into something, but I can’t imagine what it would be exactly. And then there’s a third possibility that it’s just sort of a haphazard attempt to try and find money that I may have hid from them,” Brown told Shadowproof. “I just don’t know.”
“The strong possibility here is [the subpoena] relates to restitution payments that I am supposed to make and which I have been making here over the last several years even while in prison,” he said. “So the idea is that they are checking to see if I have money from the Intercept that I haven’t reported.”
The Intercept confirmed over email that they received a subpoena but declined to provide further comment at this time.
On June 29, Brown said he received an email from the Haynes & Boone law firm in New York City—the same firm retained by D Magazine, for which Brown writes, when he was re-arrested in April by the Bureau of Prisons for giving interviews to journalists.
Brown said Haynes & Boone notified him that the Intercept received a subpoena from an office within the Justice Department. However, at the time of the interview, Brown had not seen a copy of the actual subpoena.
“[The] probation officer from the DOJ has my bank account,” Brown said. “You have to give that to them when you start probation, which I did about a month ago. They also have my emails. They have everything.”
Brown said he “never received any questions about whether or not [he’s] received money from the Intercept since the restitution kicked in, which I haven’t,” and maintained all checks he received from the Intercept were while he was in prison, when he was only required to pay $200 per month in restitution.
“That was a fee set by the BOP and it was all promptly paid. I’ve just made payments to the U.S. Attorney’s local clerk for my book advance that I get every couple months. So it’s kind of unclear what is going on here,” Brown said.
Also, remarkably, the Justice Department could easily obtain all this information without targeting the Intercept, a media organization which is supposed to enjoy strong protections under the First Amendment.
“The information they’re asking for is already available to them in several different ways,” Brown described. “They have all of my prior communications with the Intercept because I was in prison during most of those; not all of them but the vast majority of them,” he said, adding, “those emails [were] monitored.”
His probation officer, who is in charge of restitution payments, is not “shy about” asking for information, according to Brown.
He suggested the Intercept “happens to be a publisher that the U.S. government is very interested in.”
When asked if the subpoena might be part of an effort by the Justice Department to dissuade other publications from giving him a platform, Brown said it was “very possibly the strategy, given what else has happened between me and the DOJ.”
He recalled that when the Free Barrett Brown campaign fundraised to hire private legal counsel for Brown so he wouldn’t have to use a public defender, the Justice Department tried to seize the money. He recalled how the government successfully obtained information on people who gave money to his projects, such as the Echelon-2 wiki and ProjectPM.
The day after Brown was arrested by the U.S. Marshals Service in April for speaking with journalists, D Magazine retained Haynes & Boone to challenge his arrest. Brown said when that happened, the U.S. Marshals immediately released him rather than go before a judge and explain his arrest.
“My publisher at D Magazine paid $11,000 dollars for this fucking law firm in New York to challenge them to get me out, otherwise I would have spent the next several weeks until my BOP oversight period ended… And of course they got away with it anyway,” Brown said.
“There were no consequences for anyone involved. That’s what they do.”
“Whenever they do something a little bit unusual, there’s usually not an innocent explanation for it,” Brown said of the government. “In fact, I can’t think of a single instance in which anything they’ve done has ended up being innocent. But I really can’t imagine what the strategy is here.”
UPDATE 1 (6/30/17): The Intercept confirmed to Shadowproof that they received a subpoena but have declined to provide further comment at this time. The story has been updated to reflect this information.
UPDATE 2 (6/30/17): The Courage Foundation tweeted a copy of the subpoena, which indicates it originated from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Texas:
— Courage Foundation (@couragefound) June 30, 2017