During his testimony, Attorney General Eric Holder also publicly defended the federal prosecution of Aaron Swartz, the Internet freedom activist who took his own life in January. Swartz was weeks before a trial date for downloading millions of articles provided by the nonprofit research service JSTOR. He was facing 35 years in prison, a penalty supporters called excessively harsh. Appearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Holder told Republican Senator John Cornyn he thinks prosecutors acted appropriately.
Eric Holder: “There was never an intention for him to go to jail for longer than a three-, four-, potentially five-month range. That was what the government said specifically to Mr. Swartz. Those — those offers were rejected.”
Sen. John Cornyn: “Does it strike you as odd that the government would indict someone for crimes that would carry penalties of up to 35 years in prison and million-dollar fines and then offer him a three- or four-month prison sentence?”
Eric Holder: “Well, 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 that what those prosecutors did in offering three, four, zero to six was consistent with that conduct.”
Sen. John Cornyn: “So you don’t consider this a case of prosecutorial overreach or misconduct?”
Eric Holder: “No, I don’t look at what necessarily was charged as much as what was offered in terms of how the case might have been resolved.”
Holder’s comments were his most extensive on the Swartz case to date. In response, Sen. Cornyn told Holder he thinks Swartz was unfairly targeted.
Sen. John Cornyn: “I would suggest to you if you’re an individual American citizen and you’re looking at criminal charges being brought by the United States government, with all of the vast resources available to the government, it strikes me as disproportionate and one that is basically being used inappropriately to try to bully someone into pleading guilty to something that strikes me as rather minor.”