Liberals Hated The Espionage Act. Then The FBI Used It Against Trump

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Laurel Duggan Social Issues and Culture Reporter
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  • Prominent liberal activist groups once vocally opposed the Espionage Act, which has been used to crack down on whistleblowers who shared sensitive government information to the press. 
  • These groups have been quiet since the Espionage Act was used against former President Donald Trump, and several prominent liberals have celebrated its use against President Joe Biden’s political rival.
  • “Now that the shoe is on the other foot … many of these same leftists are demanding that this accordion-like law be expanded to fit Trump’s alleged mishandling of classified material,” Harvard Law professor Alan Dershowitz told the Daily Caller News Foundation. 

Prominent Democrats and left-leaning journalists have seemingly developed an appreciation for the Espionage Act — which liberal activists once criticized as unconstitutional and abusive — now that it’s being used against former President Donald Trump.

The FBI raided Trump’s residence at Mar-a-Lago Aug. 8 as part of an investigation into a potential violation of the Espionage Act, which can be used to prosecute illegal spying but also leaking or mishandling classified documents. Liberals once widely opposed the law, which they viewed as an infringement on free speech and a way for the government to abuse its critics.

“The most serious alleged crime cited in the Trump search warrant is under the Espionage Act of 1917. In the past, many leftists and civil libertarians have railed against the breadth and scope of this law, calling it repressive and unconstitutionally vague,” Alan Dershowitz, Harvard Law School professor, told the Daily Caller News Foundation. (RELATED: ‘The American People Are Not Stupid’: Most Believe There Are Two Tiers To Justice System, Poll Finds)

“But now that the shoe is on the other foot— now that the same law is being deployed against a possible presidential candidate they deplore— many of these same leftists are demanding that this accordion-like law be expanded to fit Trump’s alleged mishandling of classified material,” he said.

The Espionage Act has been used to crack down on journalists who leak classified government documents to the press, and was used against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and whistleblower Chelsea Manning. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has challenged the constitutionality of applying the Espionage Act to left-wing anti-government activities and has been outspoken against the act generally, but they’ve been silent about its use against a politician they dislike, Dershowitz explained.

“The Espionage Act is fundamentally unfair and unconstitutional,” the ACLU wrote in 2017. The ACLU has not made a public statement about the use of the Espionage Act against Trump and declined the DCNF’s request for comment on this story.

The Brennan Center for Justice came out against the use of the Espionage Act to charge Chelsea Manning — formerly known as Bradley Manning — for releasing state secrets to WikiLeaks in a statement to The Guardian. Convictions under the Espionage Act would have a chilling effect on public information and discourage government whistleblowers, Brennan Center spokesperson said in 2013, adding that the government doesn’t prosecute leakers who expose information that’s skewed in the government’s benefit.

These liberal groups have not condemned the use of the Espionage Act to justify an investigation into one of President Joe Biden’s chief political rivals, and several prominent liberals appear to view it as justified and have adopted positive attitudes towards the Espionage Act despite the past opposition from liberal groups.

“It’s telling when news about you pleading the Fifth over 400 times during a deposition about financial fraud is overshadowed by the FBI raiding your home during an unrelated investigation into violations of the Espionage Act,” former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich wrote.

“’No one is above the law’” is only true if we make it so. Prosecute Trump,” he wrote.

Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin said violations of the Espionage Act were “not technically treason but close.”

“For the warrant to cover the Espionage Act, there had to be PROBABLE CAUSE of espionage,” wrote Tristan Snell, an attorney and political commentator. “Not just a ‘what if Trump gave classified docs to foreign agents.’ There was PROOF presented to the judge — witness testimony, video footage, other documents, something. Tangible proof.”

Journalist Matt Taibbi mocked liberals for celebrating the Espionage Act in a Substack article.

“A law reviled by liberalism ten minutes ago is now Savior to All,” he wrote.

Dershowitz described liberals’ reaction to the use of the Espionage Act against Trump as a double standard, given their opposition to charging former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton for related crimes.

“Perhaps the most glaring manifestation of the double standard currently at work is the different approach taken to the alleged mishandling of classified material by Trump, on the one hand, and former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, on the other hand,” Dershowitz said. “No wide-ranging search warrants were sought for Clinton’s home where private servers were apparently kept. And then FBI director James Comey announced that no criminal prosecution has ever been taken for comparable mishandling of classified material.”

The Brennan Center did not respond to the Daily Caller News Foundation’s request for comment.

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