A judge today declined to proceed with cybercrime charges lodged against Intercept co-founder Glenn Greenwald for his reporting on prosecutorial and judicial misconduct in Brazil.
In a decision announced Thursday, Judge Ricardo Augusto Soares Leite ruled that Greenwald’s prosecution would not go forward, but only on account of a previous finding by the Brazilian Supreme Court that The Intercept’s reporting on Operation Car Wash had not transgressed any legal boundaries. In the absence of the injunction issued by a Supreme Court minister that prohibited investigations into Greenwald related to this case, Leite said he would have let the charges against Greenwald move forward. The judge also said that, if the Supreme Court injunction were to be overturned, he would be open to charging Greenwald.
“I decline, for now, to receive the complaint against GLENN GREENWALD, due to the controversy over the extent of the injunction granted by Minister Gilmar Mendes in ADPF nº 601, on 08/24/2019,” Leite wrote, referring to the ruling by Mendes, a Supreme Court minister.
Greenwald had been accused of criminal misconduct related to his reporting on Operation Car Wash, a wide-ranging anti-corruption investigation. The cybercrimes charges stemmed from allegations by a public prosecutor that Greenwald worked in collaboration with hackers to obtain an online chat group used by prosecutors and judges in the Car Wash cases.
“While I welcome the fact that this investigation will not move forward, this decision is insufficient to guarantee the rights of a free press,” Greenwald said in a statement. “The rejection is based on the fact that the Supreme Court already issued an injunction against attempts of official persecution against me. This is not enough. We seek a decisive rejection from the Supreme Court of this abusive prosecution on the grounds that it is a clear and grave assault on core press freedoms. Anything less would leave open the possibility of further erosion of the fundamental freedom of the press against other journalists.”
“We will continue the fight against this authoritarian escalation before the Supreme Court, all while we keep reporting on the archive provided by our source,” Greenwald said.
The Intercept also welcomed the ruling, with reservations.
“Today’s ruling rightly rejects the charges against Glenn Greenwald. As federal police investigators affirmed last year, he did nothing wrong,” said Betsy Reed, The Intercept’s editor-in-chief. “However, the ruling is narrow and procedural, based on the injunction issued by a Supreme Court minister last year.”
“There remains enormous pressure to prosecute Glenn in retaliation for his work on The Intercept’s Secret Brazil Archive series,” Reed continued. “We will continue to fight for the complete exoneration Glenn deserves, and for the rights of all journalists to exercise the freedoms they are entitled to under the Brazilian constitution.”
Beginning last June, The Intercept has published a series of stories, in both English and Portuguese, based on leaks about Operation Car Wash. Car Wash rocked Brazilian politics by charging high-profile companies, as well as two former presidents. Former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva was imprisoned as part of the investigation and prevented from running in the 2018 presidential election, clearing the way for the far-right politician Jair Bolsonaro to take office.
The Intercept’s stories document high-level misconduct in the Brazilian justice system relating to the sweeping investigation. The Intercept reported on leaked chats between prosecutors and judges in the case — revealing scheming by purportedly apolitical prosecutors to ensure that Lula’s Workers’ Party did not win the election; prohibited collaboration between the Car Wash prosecutors and a key judge; and controversial personal enrichment by prosecutors through speaking events, among many other noteworthy details.
The decision to dismiss the charges against Greenwald, albeit while leaving the door open to his prosecution should the Supreme Court change its decision, comes in the wake of an international campaign of support for Greenwald and condemnation of the Bolsonaro government. Last week, a coalition of more than 40 civil liberties groups denounced the legal intimidation of Greenwald and The Intercept Brasil. That message has also been echoed by high-profile political figures in the United States, including Sens. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., both 2020 presidential hopefuls. Other progressive figures, such as Reps. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., and Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., also condemned the charges. A statement from the Committee to Protect Journalists described the charges as “a disproportionate abuse of power by Brazilian authorities [that] poses a threat to any investigative journalist.”
Bolsonaro has attempted to throttle civil liberties in Brazil since coming to power, waging a campaign of intimidation against rival politicians, the independent press, and civil society activists. The Car Wash investigation represented arguably the largest and most embarrassing episode for Bolsonaro since he came to power, highlighting, based on internal leaks, conversations that had taken place between Bolsonaro allies to help subvert Brazil’s democratic institutions.
Greenwald and The Intercept Brasil never planned to cease or scale back coverage at any time since being charged.