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Glenn Greenwald on Mueller, Chelsea Manning & New Martina Navratilova Doc with Reese Witherspoon

Web ExclusiveMay 30, 2018
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In our extended interview with Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Glenn Greenwald of The Intercept, he discusses Mueller’s Russia probe and Chelsea Manning’s run for Senate. He also describes his partnership with actor Reese Witherspoon on a new documentary about tennis legend Martina Navratilova, that will explore her achievements as a social justice pioneer and role model through his own experience as a gay child growing up in Reagan-era Florida.

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González, with Part 2 of our discussion with the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, the co-founder of The Intercept, Glenn Greenwald.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Glenn, I wanted to ask you about The New York Times report Tuesday that Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from the investigation into alleged ties between Russia and the Trump campaign, but that then President Trump ordered Sessions to reverse the decision. The Times reports the potentially inappropriate request was made in March of 2017 and that it’s under investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller as another line of evidence that Trump sought to obstruct the inquiry.

Sessions recused himself following reports he met twice with Russia’s ambassador to the U.S. while serving as a campaign surrogate for Donald Trump. The revelation directly contradicted Sessions’ sworn testimony to Congress that he did not meet with any Russian official in the run-up to the 2016 election.

So, I’m wondering your thoughts on this, especially including the Times report says that Sessions resisted the Trump order and, ever since then, has been basically completely on the outs with Trump.

GLENN GREENWALD: Well, as you know, I’ve been a skeptic of this entire Russia Mueller investigation from the start. And, you know, we’ve seen this so many times before in Washington, where allegations of impropriety lead to an independent counsel or special counsel, and then, years later, the special counsel is so far afield from the original allegations that nobody even remembers what prompted the investigation to begin with. And I think, in large part, that’s what’s happened here. Remember that in 2016 the controversy began because people in the Clinton campaign, and then the intelligence community, claimed that Vladimir Putin himself ordered Russian intelligence officials to hack the DNC and John Podesta email inbox and that the Trump campaign colluded with them to do that, cooperated and conspired with them on the hacking. Here we are, 18 months later. There have been a lot of indictments, but none of those indictments have anything to do with those original claims, nor has any evidence been presented that those original claims are actually true. So, we have things like Paul Manafort and his money laundering and his sort of typical K Street shenanigans. And then we have claims that the Trump White House and Donald Trump himself, who clearly was opposed to the investigation to begin with and wanted to control it from spiraling out of control, sought to impede it in various ways, including by, for example, opposing the recusal of Jeff Sessions.

The problem is, is that over the last several decades we’ve created a model of the presidency that says that the president is essentially omnipotent when it comes to how the executive branch is managed. In fact, it was those theories that caused me to stop practicing law and to start practicing journalism in the first place. But both political parties have endorsed the idea that the sole executive power rests in the presidency, which means that he’s in charge of the Justice Department. He can tell his attorney general what to do. He can fire the FBI director. And whether Trump was doing this because he’s actually guilty and wanted to prevent an investigation from discovering that, which presumably means there should be some underlying evidence of guilt at some point, which we haven’t seen, or that he was doing it because he believes that it was really a witch hunt and that Sessions should prevent outsiders from being able to come in and turn it into something greater than what it is seems to be a very subjective question that I’m not sure we’re ever going to get to the bottom of.

So, it just seems like we are very far afield from the original questions. And if you talk to Democrats who are running for Congress or other local offices, they will tell you that their constituents—and there have been lots of reports about this—almost never ask about any of the stuff related to Russia. People don’t wake up in the morning worried about Vladimir Putin or Russian Twitter bots, which doesn’t mean it’s unimportant, but I do think that it—Democrats ought to be thinking about how they can convince voters to vote for Democrats and remove Republicans and, ultimately, Donald Trump from office on the substance. And I think a lot of this stuff has been unhelpful in that regard.

AMY GOODMAN: … and ask you about Chelsea Manning, the formerly imprisoned Army whistleblower. She posted two tweets Sunday, including a photo of two feet standing on a window ledge, raising concern about her personal safety from her followers. Someone has since posted to her Twitter account, saying she is safe. The Baltimore Sun reports one tweet read, “I’m sorry–I tried–I’m sorry I let you all down. Im not really cut out for this world–I tried adapting to this world out here but I failed you–I couldn’t do this anymore–I can take people I don’t know hating me but not my own friends. I tried and I’m sorry about my failure.” Can you talk about what you understand is happening with Chelsea right now?

GLENN GREENWALD: Well, it’s incredibly sad, because Chelsea Manning is one of the most vibrant and heroic and compassionate, intelligent people I’ve ever had the privilege of meeting. But I think it’s really necessary to remember what she endured when she was in prison for seven years, for disclosing information that everybody agrees was an incredibly important journalistic resource that exposed war crimes and that put nobody at risk, which is treatment that the U.N. itself found was inhumane. And I spent many hours on the phone with her while she was in those prison facilities. I visited her in Kansas at Leavenworth while she was there. And, you know, she transitioned with very inadequate medical and psychological support while she was in prison. What she endured was really a form of, as the U.N. itself said, pushing the boundaries of torture, if not torture itself, all while she was going through a transition that requires a lot of support and infrastructure that the prison facility simply didn’t provide her. And so, it’s totally unsurprising.

You know, she went into prison when she was 21, and got out when she was 28. She went in as—you know, identifying as a boy and came out identifying as a woman, with very little support. And so, she has had problems adjusting to the outside world. She announced that she was going to run for Senate, trying to unseat the Maryland Democratic incumbent, Benjamin Cardin. And that has created a lot of hatred and animosity toward her on the part of Democratic Party loyalists, who directed a lot of bile and hatred at her, which, you know, to be honest, is fair game once you announce that you’re going to run as a major candidate, but I think it’s clear that she wasn’t really prepared for that, she wasn’t really ready for that.

Those two tweets clearly were strong suggestions that she was strongly contemplating suicide. Remember, she twice tried to kill herself while she was in the military brig in Leavenworth. Those were serious suicide attempts. They weren’t dramatic or fake; they were very real. She is safe. She has some friends who intervened and got her some protection and support that she needed. But clearly, you know, she’s struggling in a lot of ways, that’s very understandable given the horrible abuse to which she was subjected by her own government.

AMY GOODMAN: Last night, a message was posted on our Twitter account, reading, “chelsea is recovering and in the company of friends. we thank everyone for their well-wishes and support.” And then it says, “if you or someone you know is in crisis, these orgs can help:” the Trans Lifeline—and it gives out the number in the U.S., (877) 565-8860—and also The Trevor Project—and gives out that number, (866) 488-6386.

GLENN GREENWALD: Yeah. I think, you know, one of the things that Chelsea has done is served as an example for people around the world—who has inspired people around the world, particularly people who are trans, that they can live their lives proudly and freely. I mean, she declared her transition, you know, immediately upon being sentenced to prison, and transitioned while in the custody of the United States military. It was an incredibly brave thing to do. She told me about the thousands of messages she got around the world.

But at the same time, trans people are still targeted with disproportionate amounts of violence and hatred. They often do have inadequate access to medical care. The psychology industry is only beginning to understand the treatment that they need. And so there is a high rate still of depression and other mental health struggles on the part of people who are trans.

And the fact that Chelsea Manning is able to use her own struggles to provide support and information for other people is very—is basically who Chelsea is and what she’s been doing with her life for the last decade. So, at least some small amount of good can come out of what is obviously the suffering she’s enduring.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Glenn, I wanted to ask you, finally, about a film that you’re involved in, a documentary with—about tennis great Martina Navratilova and her impact on the world. Could you talk about that, as well?

GLENN GREENWALD: Sure. So, we announced the film last week. I’m partnering with Reese Witherspoon and her production company, Hello Sunshine, which was created by Reese last year with the intention of telling the stories of complex and sophisticated women that have been overlooked by history.

Martin Navratilova was my hero, growing up in the 1980s, for reasons that I never quite understood but I’ve only begun thinking about recently. She obviously was, you know, one of the greatest athletes of the 20th century in terms of the way she dominated women’s tennis, but she was also, much more importantly, an incredible pioneer, social justice pioneer, off the court. In the early '80s, in the Reagan era, when I was 13, 14, and just coming of age as, you know, a gay teenager, she was one of the very few openly gay celebrities in the world. And she wasn't dragged out of the closet by scandal; she came out voluntarily. She was also an incredibly important feminist pioneer. She revolutionized training regimens for women in sports and demanded the right to be muscular and strong. She hired a trans coach, a trans woman, in the early 1980s, and traveled around with her, Dr. Renée Richards. She was an immigrant to the U.S. who was very outspoken politically, and lost sponsorships because of all of these things.

And so the film is really designed to understand Martina’s bravery off the court for causes that now are sort of taken for granted, but back then had no infrastructure or vocabulary even to discuss, let alone support. She really blazed trails and, in the process, inspired huge numbers of people around the world. And part of the film is going to look at the effect that she had on me as sort of this, you know, adolescent gay child in the Reagan era, where homosexuality was never discussed except in connection with the AIDS epidemic, to properly put Martina’s historical legacy in perspective and to allow a whole new generation of people, that take these rights and causes for granted, to understand that very recently the world was extremely different on all of these fronts and only changed because of the courage of people like Martina to stand, more or less, alone and demand the right to be an individual. So, there’s a lot there to kind of dig into. We have the perfect partner, in Reese Witherspoon, to do it. And we’re going to start filming in a couple of months and hope to have the film done within a year.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, we look forward to seeing it. Glenn, thanks so much for being with us. Glenn Greenwald, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, Martina Navratilova fan and one of the founding editors of The Intercept.

If you want to see Part 1 of our discussion with Glenn, you can go to I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González. Thanks so much for joining us.

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