This is actually about a month old but I missed it when it came out. I’ve written before about the failed prosecution of Thomas Drake, the former NSA employee who blew the whistle on corruption and unconstitutional surveillance by that agency. The case collapsed and the government dropped all the espionage charges against Drake earlier this year. The Federation of American Scientists has a transcript of a remarkable hearing where the prosecutor demanded that the judge impose a huge fine on Drake for the minor misdemeanor charge that was left in the case to serve as a warning to others. The judge, who was appointed by George W. Bush, pretty much unloaded on the government for its abusive prosecution.
Much of the tension arose from the recommendation of the relentless prosecutor, William M. Welch, that Mr. Drake should be fined an additional $50,000 to serve as a deterrent and to “send a message” to other government employees who might be inclined to follow in his footsteps.
Mr. Welch complained that Mr. Drake had “received a $10,000 prize for having been a whistleblower,” namely the Ridenhour award, which was presented to Mr. Drake in April 2011.
Mr. Welch said that Mr. Drake should therefore be fined at least $10,000 in order to repudiate and cancel whatever “profit” and public respect he had gained from his whistleblowing activity, in which he exposed questionable management practices at the National Security Agency.
“He shouldn’t walk away in the sense of a comparison between the fine and this award with any semblance of a notion that he’s profited in any way from his conduct,” Mr. Welch said. “At a minimum, the fine ought to be $10,000, but I would urge the court to impose the $50,000.”
But the judge wasn’t having it.
“There has been financial devastation wrought upon this defendant that far exceeds any fine that can be imposed by me. And I’m not going to add to that in any way,” he said decisively.
Judge Bennett further rebuked the government for its handling of the case. From the time when Drake’s home was searched in 2007, it took two and a half years before Drake was indicted, “and then over a year later, on the eve of trial, in June of 2011, the government says, whoops, we dropped the whole case.”
“That’s four years of hell that a citizen goes through,” the judge said. “It was not proper. It doesn’t pass the smell test.”
“I don’t think that deterrence should include an American citizen waiting two and a half years after their home is searched to find out if they’re going to be indicted or not,” Judge Bennett said. “I find that unconscionable. Unconscionable. It is at the very root of what this country was founded on against general warrants of the British. It was one of the most fundamental things in the Bill of Rights that this country was not to be exposed to people knocking on the door with government authority and coming into their homes. And when it happens, it should be resolved pretty quickly, and it sure as heck shouldn’t take two and a half years before someone’s charged after that event.”
Wish we had more judges like him. And wish we had a president who didn’t abuse his power in order to provoke such valid anger.