Attorney General Claims Aaron Swartz Case Was “A Good Use of Prosecutorial Discretion”

Attorney General Eric Holder claims critics are wrong to blame prosecutors for misconduct in the handling of Internet activist Aaron Swartz.

Swartz committed suicide after allegedly facing 50+ years in prison for releasing millions of pay-walled academic articles. During a congressional Judiciary Committee oversight hearing, Holder claimed that the media overhyped the assumption of an overzealous prosecutor, saying that a plea deal of a few months in prison was offered and rejected by Swartz.

His statement below, in response to the questioning of Senator John Cornyn:

“Let me first say that Mr. Swartz’s death was a tragedy. My sympathy goes out to his family and to his friends — those who were close to him. It’s a terrible loss. He’s obviously a very bright young man and had I think a good future in front of him. As I talked to people who’ve looked into this matter, these news reports about what he was actually facing is not consistent with the interaction was between the government and Mr. Swartz. An offer, a plea offer, was made to him of 3 months before the indictment. This case could have been resolved with a plea of 3 months. After … the indictment, an offer was made that he could plead and serve 4 months. Even after that, a plea offer was made of a range of from zero to 6 months that he would be able to argue for a probationary sentence. The government would be able to argue for up to a period of 6 months. There was never an intention for him to go to jail for longer than a 3-, 4- potentially 5-month range. That is what the government said specifically to Mr. Swartz. Those, those offers were rejected.”

After Cornyn asked Holder whether it was odd that the government aggressively prosecuted someone for merely releasing documents, Holder responded: “I think that’s a good use of prosecutorial discretion to look at the conduct, regardless of what the statutory maximums were and to fashion a sentence that was consistent with what the nature of the conduct was. And I think what those prosecutors did in offering 3, 4, zero to 6 was consistent with, with that conduct.”

The reactions to Swartz death were so far-reaching, that hackers took down MIT’s network to leave a tribute page to the activist, and Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren (CrunchGov Grade: A) has introduced legislation to reduce the penalty of crimes similar to the one Swartz allegedly committed.

Video of the testimony below: