Andrew Sullivan Loves the Release of a Good Document

Newsweek/Daily Beast celebupundit Andrew Sullivan really, really wants to see Trig Palin's birth certificate, thinks Obama should have released his earlier, and has lots of righteous things to say about how real reporters demand to see documents. Funny thing—we're trying to get documents about you, Andrew! Care to help?

Sullivan has seen the release of Obama's long-form birth certificate largely as an excuse to flog his favorite bugaboo—the notion that Trig Palin is not really Sarah Palin's child. The thorough demolition of that conspiracy by Salon's Justin Elliott last week seems to have merely reinforced Sullivan's obsession, and his response boils down to: Reporters should demand to see Trig's birth certificate, simply because they can, and Palin is obligated to release, simply because they asked.

By the same token, there was nothing wrong with Trump demanding Obama's birth records—indeed, he was doing the media's job—and Obama should have released them sooner. Transparency!

I think this should have been done long ago. Because a president has to put his public responsibilities before his pride and his privacy. That's the price of the job — to defuse or debunk conspiracy theorists or just skeptics with all the relevant information you have.

It's also the job of the media always to press for more information, not less.... Get over yourselves, MSM. And do your job — not defending the right of people in power to protect themselves, but scrutinizing them relentlessly, with every fact and document you can get. You don't defuse conspiracy theories or end legitimate doubts by telling public officials they need not provide clear and available evidence to rebut them. Yes, some will still suspect. But many will walk away. That's worth doing.

Elsewhere, Sullivan wrote of Trump: "I don't have a problem with wealthy individuals using their money to get more information on public figures. That used to be called journalism; and if journalists are busy preening about their restraint, rather than proving their anti-establishment tenacity, more power to the outsiders."

It's a rousing call to arms for journalists following the paper trails of the powerful! We were truly inspired. And as it happens, we've been on Sullivan's trail for more than a year, seeking documents about his 2009 citation for possession of marijuana on federal land and the suspicious circumstances under which it was dismissed by the U.S. Attorney. We're heartened to know Sullivan's feelings on how relentlessly reporters ought to pursue public figures, and pleased to know he will help us get documents about the pot bust by providing us with a privacy waiver allowing the federal government to release records about him. Right, Andrew?

Andrew Sullivan Loves the Release of a Good Document

Background: On July 13, 2009, Sullivan was issued a notice of violation—basically a federal ticket—for carrying marijuana in the Cape Cod National Seashore, near Provincetown, Mass., where he keeps a summer home. According to the notice—a copy of which is at left—a plainclothes National Park Police officer saw Sullivan smoking a joint near Herring Cove Beach, a popular nude swimming hole. Sullivan was under the impression that smoking small amounts of pot was legal in Massachusetts—which it is—but neglected to consider that he was on federal land, where it's a Class B misdemeanor. Sullivan handed over the joint and another one in his pocket, and the cop issued a $125 ticket.

None of which is even remotely noteworthy. What's weird is that a month later, the office of the U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts asked a federal magistrate judge to dismiss the notice of violation "in the interests of justice." The judge, Robert Colling, demanded an explanation, and prosecutors replied that, at the time, Sullivan—who is a British citizen—was "applying for a certain immigration status in the United States" and that "if Mr. Sullivan were to [pay the $125 fine], it would have an adverse effect on his application." Colling reluctantly granted the prosecutors' request, but not before writing an 11-page opinion accusing them of "flout[ing] the bedrock principle of our legal system that all persons stand equal before the law":

[W]hy should the United States Attorney make a judgment that, despite the immigration law, the charge should be dismissed because it would "adversely affect" his application? If other applicants for a certain immigration status have had their applications "adversely affected" by a conviction or a forfeiture of collateral for possession of marijuana, then why should Mr. Sullivan, who is in the same position, not have to deal with the same consequences?

The implicit answer, of course, is, "Because Andrew Sullivan is famous and goes on Bill Maher and Barack Obama reads his blog." Colling concluded the opinion by writing that "fidelity to the law requires that the Court grant leave to the United States Attorney to dismiss the Violation Notice against Mr. Sullivan, and the Court hereby grants such leave. That the Court must so act does not require the Court to believe that the end result is a just one."

Sullivan didn't have much to say at the time about the special treatment. It's worth noting that his effort to gain permanent residency in the U.S. was complicated by two profound injustices: That his HIV status was taken into account, and that his marriage to a U.S. citizen wasn't. So it's not hard to see how his application could be complicated even by an insignificant little misdemeanor, nor is it hard to see why he would use all the leverage in his power to make that misdemeanor go away. Earlier this month, after an 18-year struggle, he finally got his green card. So he is presumably free now to acknowledge what strings he pulled, if any, to make that happen. According to records we got from the National Park Service, there were 71 notices of violation issued in Cape Cod National Seashore for possession of a controlled substance in the summer of 2009. Sullivan's was the only one dismissed at the request of prosecutors.

We filed Freedom of Information Act requests with the Office of the U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts and the National Park Service last year seeking all records they had concerning the notice of violation and subsequent decision to drop the matter. Both were originally denied on the grounds that releasing the records would violate Sullivan's personal privacy. We appealed; the U.S. Attorney responded, dubiously, that it had nothing beyond what's in the court file, and the Park Service hasn't replied yet.

But both requests could be dispatched rather quickly if Sullivan would furnish a privacy waiver instructing the Park Service and U.S. Attorney to release documents about him.

So what do you say, Andrew? Do your admonitions about lazy reporters and documents and public figures obtain when the figure is you? Will you help us scrutinize you relentlessly, with every fact and document we can get, and help us get to the bottom of an episode that a U.S. magistrate judge described as a "derogation of the principle that all persons stand equal before the law"? Shoot me an e-mail and I'll get you the waiver form.

[Photo by Geoff Livingston/Flickr]