Government Pioneers Hairdresser Venue-Shopping in Jeffrey Sterling Case


Here’s my latest on the Jeffrey Sterling trial from

Coming back into the courtroom after a break in the Jeffrey Sterling trial this afternoon, I heard an odd conversation. Apparently the government had unsuccessfully tried to get the defense to stipulate that the hairdresser for the FBI officer who had investigated this case had read James Risen’s book, State of War, in the Eastern judicial district of Virginia, where the court is located.

“There is no hairdresser privilege,” the judge presiding over the case, Leonie Brinkema, ruled.

So after a surprisingly weak presentation of computer forensic evidence, the government then called the investigating FBI officer’s hairdresser, who I will refer to as Julia P (because why shouldn’t she get the same privacy protections all the CIA’s witnesses got?). She seemed unprepared for court testimony, dressed casually. But she was a welcome breath of fresh air from all the stern witnesses preaching national security we’ve seen in the trial so far.

“Hi!” she said in a high voice as she took the stand. She explained she’d been a hairdresser for 35 years (she looked far too young for that to be the case). Julia P then confirmed that she had read State of War.

“Yessir, every chapter.”

She went on to confirm that she had read the book in Alexandria, VA shortly after it came out and that she does not have a security clearance.

The government, you see, is trying to establish they have charged Jeffrey Sterling in the proper venue. If anything has so far been presented that ties the alleged crimes to the Eastern District of Virginia, it’s not apparently clear what that is. It may be that the government had intended to use Risen’s testimony to establish venue in CIA’s home judicial district, but even there, he lives in Maryland and his office in is District of Columbia, as the government had just stipulated.

So they called the investigative Special Agent’s hairdresser.

And citing no precedent for this means to establish venue for an espionage case, the prosecution got Julia P to testify she had read a nationally released book that disclosed classified information in the same city where the trial is taking place.

Judge Brinkema then interjected, “how did you obtain the book?” It might have been either Borders or Barnes & Noble, Julia P explained. When pressed, she said it was probably in Alexandria or Arlington.

But it might have been in Bowie, Maryland, because her boyfriend lives there.

As Julia P pointed out, there are Barnes & Nobles all over.

On cross-examination, the defense asked her to clarify this, whether she knew where she bought the book. “It was probably Virginia, but it might have been Bowie,” she repeated. “You don’t remember whether you bought the book in Virginia or Maryland?” the defense asked again to be sure.

When she was dismissed, Julia P responded with the same refreshing voice, “Thank you!”

Note, of a fairly large jury pool, not a single potential juror had read Risen’s book. But to Julia P’s great credit, she has.

I’m anticipating that the venue jury instructions are going to be mighty interesting.

15 replies
  1. Peterr says:

    I’d love to see the defense ask to subpoena store-by-store sales figures for Risen’s book, to make the prosecution’s argument for choice of venue look as ridiculous as it is.
    If Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and the rest of the publishing industry doesn’t have the figures on hand, I’m sure the NSA could provide the data.

    • emptywheel says:

      I’m guessing the NSA is part of the government’s problems with this case.

      They foresnics was REALLY bad. REALLY bad. But perhaps they know that Sterling did send the email they claimed he had sent (though even if he had, it would have shown Risen trying to write a story with him 8 months after going to the CIA all ready to publish the Merlin story) via some illegal means, and this is the best they’ve got.

  2. scribe says:

    You’d’ve thought the FBI could have gone all Section 215 on Barnes and Noble and all the other bookstores to find out who bought the book where.
    Wouldn’t it be ironic if she bought the book at the bookstore in downtown DC where the Obamas recently celebrated press freedom.

    • Peterr says:

      Suppose the data shows that more people per capita bought Risen’s book in San Francisco than anywhere else in the US. Does that mean the proper venue is out on the Left Coast instead of Langley’s back yard?
      Of course not. But putting the issue before Brinkema like that would drive home how stupid the Hairdresser Theory of Venue Selection is.
      The trial is to be held where the crime was committed. Figure out where the crime took place, not where people were when they heard about the crime. If they are staking their venue claims on Julia P, it sure sounds to me as if they don’t know where the crime took place — or at least, they can’t prove what they think they know.
      One more thing . . .

      She explained she’d been a hairdresser for 35 years (she looked far too young for that to be the case).

      Far too young? Only Julia P’s hairdresser knows for sure.

      • Peterr says:

        I miss Edit.
        “more people per capita bought Risen’s book” should be “more people bought Risen’s book per capita . . .”

      • emptywheel says:

        Yes, I took Julia P’s youthful appearance to be an indication of her skill as a hairdresser.

        They don’t know where the crime was committed (or if they do it was via illegal means). It is increasingly clear they let their suspicions drive their investigation rather than the actual evidence.

        Walking into this case I thought the govt had a very strong circumstantial case. Now I’m angry that they went to trial with this shit show.

        • wallace says:

          quote”They don’t know where the crime was committed (or if they do it was via illegal means). “unquote

          ummm, please correct me if I’m missing something here..but could you please tell me when they proved a “crime was committed” by Sterling? I thought that was the point of a “trial”.

    • Anon says:

      They could also just buy it temselves to show that it is available and not have to invoke any powers at all.

      • bmaz says:

        Yeah, that is not going to cut it for criminal venue. And neither is the hairdresser. My guess is the government is going to adduce a bunch of cumulative junk like this from multiple witnesses and then argue it makes a circumstantial case for venue in EDVA.

        • emptywheel says:

          They do appear to be in a bit of a stall right now, perhaps hoping to find another hairdresser. They’re having the woman–a hard ass security officer–who read Sterling out of his compartments read his security agreements line by line.

          They still haven’t submitted the phone records. But that appears to be all they’ve got in this case. Plus some documents on rotary phones they’ve retroactively classified Secret.

          • bmaz says:

            I am thinking that that two bit kind of junk capped off with an emphatic “AND THE CIA IN IN EDVA!” is going to be their proof of venue. This is why they spent so much effort trying to bust Risen.

          • liberalrob says:

            It’s mind-boggling to this layman that a Federal court would seriously consider possession of documents that were retroactively classified to be a crime. The very concept of “retroactive classification” is ridiculous on its face to begin with, but what was Sterling supposed to do? Did they send him a letter telling him to return the documents at the time they were retroactively classified? If not, how was he supposed to know, telepathy?

            Kafkaesque. This whole proceeding demeans and delegitimates the judicial system of this country. Can they not see the damage they are doing by pursuing this?

  3. Anon says:

    There is some quasai-related precedent for this. In establishing personal jurisdiction (venue) for cases of libel I believe that the courts have in the past ruled that any venue where it is sold is ok. So if you publish something about a person and sell it in a given state you can be sued there. They may be trying to argue that this is just the same because anywhere the leak is read it causes damage.
    If that is their goal however the choice of Julia P. is odd as they made no apparent attempt to claim she caused harm by knowing it or will cause harm so they would have to claim that mere knowledge is harm or is otherwise legally relevant to the harm to make the venue appropriate.
    As for Julie, she seems nice :)

  4. wallace says:

    quote”So after a surprisingly weak presentation of computer forensic evidence, the government then called the investigating FBI officer’s hairdresser,…”unquote

    Hahahahahahaha! God, that’s funny. The investigating FBI officer’s hairdresser. I can just hear the conversation where he learned she read the book…, FBI agent must live in the same town as the hairdresser, and has conversations about national security…especially books on it. And then, get’s her subpeoned(I assume)


    note to self..file under

    You can’t make this shit up.

    God, would I love to have been on this jury.

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