Jury Convicts Sterling on All Nine Counts

Courtroom sketch by Debra Van Poolen (http://www.debvanpoolen.com/)

Courtroom sketch by Debra Van Poolen (http://www.debvanpoolen.com/)

After having deliberated for slightly over 2 days, the jury today found Jeffrey Sterling guilty of all nine counts today. (See a summary of the charges here.)

I’m not surprised the jury found Sterling guilty of some of the charges: of leaking Risen information on Merlin and the operation he was involved in, and of retaining and then leaking Risen a document involved in that. The government multiplied the charges for both the 2003 New York Times story (at which point, Sterling and Risen had only spoken for two minutes and 40 seconds) and the 2006 book (by which point they had had more lengthy discussions), such that each leak amounted to multiple charges. In addition, the jury convicted Sterling of passing government property worth over $1,000, and of obstruction of justice.

It’s the last charge that really raises questions about how the jury understood their instructions.

That’s because the government charged Sterling for obstructing the investigation by destroying a totally unclassified email he sent to James Risen in March 2003; he destroyed that email sometime between April and July 2006. The government made no allegation that Sterling ever entered Virginia during this period, much less destroyed the email there. In other words, there is no way Sterling should have been found guilty on that charge in Virginia (though it was easily the charge for which there was the most evidence to convict him of, had it been charged in Missouri). So that guilty verdict should make it easier to prove that the jury misunderstood the venue questions.

The other thing I think the defense might have grounds to appeal was Leonie Brinkema’s decision (which remains classified) that kept out details showing that several of the witnesses against Sterling — up to four of the people cleared into the Merlin operation — had, like Sterling, kept classified documents at home. One of the few concrete pieces of evidence against Sterling was that he had kept (probably retroactively) classified documents at home, which the government presented in big red printed SECRET folders. But, if (as seems highly likely) Bob S also did the same, it might raise questions about why FBI never investigated him as a potential source.

There’s much more that raises questions about the legitimacy (though not necessarily the outcome) of the trial, such as the things CIA managed to keep secret, including that the CIA had declared state secrets over some of the evidence submitted at trial to deprive Sterling of the ability to sue for discrimination.

And, finally, the verdict raises real questions about the economy of leaks in DC, in which people may point reporters to stories, only to have the reporters dig up damning evidence from other sources (which is what seems most likely to have happened here). Jeffrey Sterling just got found guilty for causing James Risen to publish a story to (the government claimed) avenge his crummy treatment by the CIA. Sterling’s guilty verdict allows no room for Risen to have decided to publish a story about CIA’s horrible record on WMD. This verdict will not only send Sterling to prison, but it turns journalists into agency-free vehicles of their sources.


16 replies
  1. Dan says:

    Jurors were worried they wouldn’t get home before Snowmageggon starts.

    Would love to hear Risen say they got the wrong person.

    • emptywheel says:

      Yeah, but if he did, he’d have a hard time not testifying. Which would lead to his other sources.

      Especially since Sterling clearly talked to him in that period, so he’d have to detail those conversations.

  2. bevin says:

    These juries are getting to be very similar to the notorious Georgian “Special Juries” without whose help the Crown could not have convicted such opponents of the government as William Cobbett.

    Two hundred years later such juries, largely composed of persons dependent on government, and judges of the Lord Ellenborough type, who see it as their job to facilitate the prosecution and ensure the conviction of state’s target, are back with us.
    Of course, in much of the USA they never really went away.

  3. Kathleen says:

    So Sterling is convicted and Aipac’s Rosen and Weissman totally let off the hook. The investigation into their espionage activities and charges did not even make it into the court room . All just dropped. No double standards there. Who you know and how much influence they have.

  4. dubinsky says:

    ” And, finally, the verdict raises real questions about the economy of leaks in DC…”

    an excellent point.

  5. Drbob7227 says:

    It comes as no surprise that the jury found him guilty. Was there any question since it is well known that the jury was a prosecutor pick and no doubt they were either paid, coached, threatened with reprisals or some other method of coercion.
    The government does not like to lose and in this case it will have far reaching consequences
    since many whistle blowers will be reluctant to pass information.
    I do believe, however, that there are many appealable issues and ultimately I believe that his conviction will be overturned.
    Professor of Law

    • bmaz says:

      …since it is well known that the jury was a prosecutor pick and no doubt they were either paid, coached, threatened with reprisals or some other method of coercion.

      What?? Um, can you provide citations for those claims? Dollars to donuts you can’t. What is a “prosecutor pick” anyway? I mean, seriously, void dire in federal court sucks, but it is much more judge driven than prosecution or defense driven. And the rest of the quote is scurrilous unless you have evidence. And there is none.
      And Bevin at #4 above: I have no idea what you are talking about as to “special juries”. I also have no idea what kind of experience you have with courthouses, juries and jury trials, but I’ll bet it is next to none. I am around them all the time, and can report that, generally, juries take their job seriously, try very hard to get things right, and by and large really do usually get it right. The American jury trial system is not perfect, but then no system is; however, it is astoundingly better than most carp about. If you want a scapegoat in the Sterling case, I would look toward the bullshit of the DOJ and the timidity of Judge Brinkema and her jury instructions. There is not one shred of evidence that this jury was anything other than dedicated and appropriate. As most juries are.

      • wallace says:

        quote:”There is not one shred of evidence that this jury was anything other than dedicated and appropriate. “unquote

        With all due respect bmaz, yes there is. The verdict. Here is my evidence…

        “I would look toward the bullshit of the DOJ and the timidity of Judge Brinkema and her jury instructions.”unquote

        If that is the case, then the jury bought bullshit and timidity, hook, line and sinker. I guess “dedicated and appropriate” now substitutes for cognitive dissonance and delusion, eh?

        btw bmaz, would you care to offer an example of “DOJ bullshit” in this case? Not that emptywheel hasn’t already, but as you are an attorney, I’d be interested in your take. Also, any link to read the Jury instructions would help me understand your labling them “timid” as well. Addmittingly, I know almost nothing about the real world of legal jurisprudence or trial rules or whatever you call it. However, at 70 years old I’ve learned to identify bullshit when I see it, and this verdict reaks of it.

        • bmaz says:

          I have not been able to find a public copy of the jury instructions, I too would like to see them in print. If and when I do, I will post them.

  6. wallace says:

    After first look at my Google news feed this morning, I didn’t see but one story regarding the verdict, and that was on The Gaurdian. After doing a news search, I see many reports on MSM, including one from NPR, with the headline..”Jeffrey Sterling, Former CIA Officer, Is Convicted Of Espionage”.

    So, let me get this straight. Leaking classified information to a journalist now amounts to “espionage”? Don’t answer. That was a rhetorical question. After Thomas Drake, Manning, Peter Van Buren and others who were charged the same, it boggles the mind. And not just mine. Apparently, lot’s of other people have sought out the definition of “espionage” in the last 7 days as well.

    When looking up the definition at Meriam Webster, there was this in a temporary field..

    quote”Espionage is currently in the bottom 50% of lookups on Merriam-Webster.com.
    A green arrow indicates a fast mover: this word increased significantly in lookups over the past seven days.”unquote

    I guess I’m not the only one that thinks the charge of “espionage” is absurd.

  7. wallace says:

    ps.. It would appear that a person who is in possession of legal citizenship in a country that convicts said person of “espionage”, is also guilty of “treason”, no?

    If so, I would submit every single “anonymous US government official, who “leaks” classified info to the press, for the purpose of propaganda, or strengthening US foriegn policy positions, or merely making the POTUS look good, is guilty of “espionage” if not treason as well. And the mere fact the DOJ is “selective” in their pursuit of said “traitors” is living proof the US TWO TIERED IN-Justice system is alive and well, and the “rule of law” in the US is a joke of biblical proportions.

  8. orionATL says:

    what a tragedy.

    what a farce.

    on the evidence provided, what a shameful legal mugging of sterling by his government.

    lacking evidence of any consequential harm, the doj lawyers were counting on judge brinkima and the jurors to do their job for them.

    it worked.

    • bmaz says:

      “Consequential harm” is not a required element on a charge of unauthorized disclosure of national defense information, so it doesn’t really matter if they had evidence of that or not. That said, there was indeed testimony presented by the prosecution to that end.

Comments are closed.