Franken Presses Holder about Swartz Prosecution
By Jennifer Koons | March 25, 2013 11:43 am

Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) sent a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder, requesting an explanation for what seemed like a “remarkably aggressive” prosecution of Internet activist Aaron Swartz, who committed suicide Jan. 11 while facing hacking charges.

Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.)

“There may be disagreement on the exact merits of the case against him, but charging a young man like Mr. Swartz with federal offenses punishable by over 35 years of federal imprisonment seems remarkably aggressive — particularly when it appears that one of the principal aggrieved parties, the academic subscription service JSTOR, did not support a criminal prosecution,” wrote Franken, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Franken’s note expresses a similar sentiment to a letter sent in January by Senate Minority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas), a fellow member of the Judiciary Committee. Franken asked that he be copied on the DOJ’s response to Cornyn.

Also in January, two House Members not known for bipartisan agreement — House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and Ranking Member Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) — wrote to Holder asking for explanations about the manner in which prosecutors pursued Swartz.

Swartz was under criminal investigation for unauthorized downloading of a huge number of academic articles from a publicly supported online database, JSTOR. JSTOR opposed his prosecution, but the office of Massachusetts U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz went ahead anyway.

Prosecutors reportedly used typical tactics – ratcheting up pressure on their target by threatening to push for years in prison if he went to trial. Instead, Ortiz has said her office was prepared to settle for a six-month prison term if he pleaded guilty.

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