Glenn Greenwald, the Bane of Their Resistance
A leftist journalist’s bruising crusade against establishment Democrats—and their Russia obsession.
Ian ParkerSeptember 3, 2018 Issue
Greenwald’s focus on “deep state” depredations has exiled him from MSNBC but has given him a place on Fox News.
Photograph by Pari Dukovic for The New Yorker
Like a man in the first draft of a limerick, Tennys Sandgren is a tennis player from Tennessee. Last winter, after scraping his way onto the list of the top hundred professional players, he secured a spot at the Australian Open. He advanced to the quarter-finals. At a press conference, he responded happily to questions about his unexpected achievement. Then someone asked him about his Twitter feed. Sandgren had tweeted, retweeted, or “liked” disparaging remarks about Muslims and gays; he had highlighted an article suggesting that recent migration into Europe could be described as “Operation European Population Replacement”; he had called Marx’s ideas worse than Hitler’s. He had also promoted the Pizzagate conspiracy theory, which accuses Hillary Clinton of human trafficking. Sandgren told reporters that, though he didn’t support the alt-right, he did find “some of the content interesting.”
This became a small news story. Sandgren then lost his quarter-final, and, at the subsequent press conference, he read a statement condemning the media’s willingness to “turn neighbor against neighbor.” Later that day, he was surprised to receive a supportive message from Glenn Greenwald, the journalist, whom he followed on Twitter. (Sandgren also followed Roger Federer, Peter Thiel, and Paul Joseph Watson, of Infowars.)
Greenwald, a former lawyer who, in 2013, was one of the reporters for a Pulitzer Prize-winning series in the Guardian on Edward Snowden’s disclosures about the National Security Agency, is a longtime critic, from the left, of centrist and liberal policymakers and pundits. During the past two years, he has further exiled himself from the mainstream American left by responding with skepticism and disdain to reports of Russian government interference in the 2016 Presidential election. On Twitter, where he has nearly a million followers, and at the Intercept, the news Web site that he co-founded five years ago, and as a frequent guest on “Democracy Now!,” the daily progressive radio and TV broadcast, Greenwald has argued that the available evidence concerning Russian activity has indicated nothing especially untoward; he has declared that those who claim otherwise are in denial about the ineptitude of the Democrats and of Hillary Clinton, and are sometimes prone to McCarthyite hysteria. These arguments, underpinned by a distaste for banal political opinions and a profound distrust of American institutions—including the C.I.A., the F.B.I., and Rachel Maddow—have put an end to his appearances on MSNBC, where he considers himself now banned, but they have given him a place on Tucker Carlson’s show, on Fox News, and in Tennys Sandgren’s Twitter feed. Greenwald is also a tennis fan—and a regular, sweary player. He recently began working on a documentary about his adolescent fascination with Martina Navratilova.
Sandgren told me that Greenwald’s message had celebrated his success in the tournament, adding, “He knows quite a lot about tennis—enough to know it was the result of my lifetime. And he wanted to encourage me in that particular moment to continue to learn, to continue to grow, and to remember to be kind—to yourself and to your critics.”
Greenwald has experienced his own share of criticism, but is not known for showing kindness to critics. Michael Hayden, the former director of the C.I.A. and the N.S.A., has written that debating him was like looking “the devil in the eye.” Leading American progressives—speaking off the record, and apologizing for what they describe as cowardice—call Greenwald a bully and a troll. One told me that “he makes everything war.” The spouse of one of Greenwald’s friends visualizes him as the angry emoji. On Twitter, he has little use for agree-to-disagree courtesies, or humor: he presses on. More than one tweet has started with “No, you idiot.” He’ll tweet “Go fuck yourself” to a user with twenty or so followers. A few years ago, Greenwald had a Twitter disagreement with Imani Gandy, a legal journalist, who tweets as @AngryBlackLady; another Twitter user, in support of Greenwald, proposed to Gandy that “Obama could rape a nun live on NBC and you’d say we weren’t seeing what we were seeing.” Greenwald replied, “No—she’d say it was justified & noble—that he only did it to teach us about the evils of rape.”
Sandgren thanked Greenwald for his message, and the next day tweeted an apology for an old post in which he’d described his “eyes bleeding” after visiting a gay club. A month later, in February, Sandgren played in Brazil, at the Rio Open. Greenwald lives in Rio de Janeiro with his husband, David Miranda, their two sons, and two dozen dogs, former strays; Sandgren offered Greenwald and his children tickets, and they all met at the venue. Video of one match shows Greenwald, in the front row, applauding every point with dad-outing gusto. He and Sandgren subsequently formed what Greenwald called a “very intense” friendship.
Sandgren described their trade in tennis and politics. “Glenn asks me what it’s like to return Ivo Karlović’s serve—a six-foot-eleven guy—and then I ask him what’s going on in the political world,” he said. “Maybe he respects the fact that I’m very interested in learning.” Greenwald has sent him YouTube links to speeches he has made. Since meeting Greenwald, Sandgren has also watched Oliver Stone’s film “Snowden,” in which Greenwald is played by Zachary Quinto, the actor best known for his role in the “Star Trek” movies. Sandgren recalled thinking, “They got Spock to play Glenn? That’s fitting: very interested in factual information, truth and reason and logic. And, if he does get a little frustrated or angry, then look out.”
Greenwald told me about his friendship with Sandgren during one of several recent conversations at his home. We sat in a high-ceilinged room with a baby grand piano; the space echoed with the sound of dogs barking—and with the sound of Greenwald responding to the barking by shouting, “The fuck?”
Greenwald, who is fifty-one, and was brought up in Florida, has lived largely in Rio for thirteen years. For most of that time, he and Miranda, a city-council member, rented a home on a hillside above the city, surrounded by forest and monkeys. Last year, they moved to a more residential neighborhood. The house is in a baronial-modernist style, and built around a forty-foot-tall boulder that feels like the work of a sculptor tackling Freudian themes: it exists partly indoors and partly out. Greenwald has a pool, and his street is gated. A thousand feet away is the crush of Rocinha, Brazil’s largest favela, from which Greenwald often hears gunfire.
He seemed happy. He was wearing shorts and flip-flops; he has a soft handshake and an easy, teasing manner that he knows will likely confound people who expect the sustained contentiousness that he employs online and on TV. (On cable news shows, Greenwald draws his lower lip over his bottom teeth, blinks slowly, and seems able to state his position on the Espionage Act of 1917 while inhaling.) Greenwald, though untroubled about being thought relentless, told me that he was “actually trying to become less acerbic, less gratuitously combative” in public debates. He recently became attached to the idea of mindfulness, and he keeps a Buddha and a metal infinity loop on a shelf behind the sofa; a room upstairs is used only for meditation. He has turned to religious and mystical reading, and has reflected that, in middle age, one’s mood “is more about integrating with the world.”
Greenwald has tried to cut back on social media. “My No. 1 therapeutic goal is to reduce my Twitter usage,” he said. He gave a glimpse of his relationship with that site when, half seriously, he recalled his reaction to a difficult moment of parenting: “I went to pick a bunch of fights on Twitter to get it out of my system.” Miranda used to encourage Twitter breaks by unplugging the Wi-Fi router; a few months ago, he took away Greenwald’s phone. Miranda said that “Glenn receives so much hate” on Twitter. He went on, “Subconsciously, that goes somewhere. To not be exposed to that energy, it’s better for him.” Greenwald no longer carries a phone; he does all his tweeting from a laptop, and aims to finish before lunch. He told me this at the end of a day that included an afternoon tweet calling a Clinton-campaign official a “drooling partisan hack.” Reminded of this, Greenwald said, “I’m still a work in progress,” and laughed. Several weeks later, he announced to colleagues, on Slack, that he was further disengaging from Twitter; he also deleted twenty-seven thousand old tweets, saying that there was a risk that their meaning could be distorted. This was two weeks after he had criticized Matt Yglesias, a journalist at Vox, for regularly deleting recent tweets, “like a coward,” so that “you have no accountability for what you say.”
Greenwald told me that he and Tennys Sandgren had been communicating every day. “He was pilloried in a way that I just found so ugly,” he said. “I could tell he wasn’t a bad person. He worked his whole life to get to this point, and the moment he gets there they turn him into Hitler.” When I later disputed this description, Greenwald pointed to unfriendly reactions from Serena Williams and from John McEnroe; McEnroe had responded by making what Greenwald called a “revolting” video about tennis players contending with prejudice. Greenwald then acknowledged that, having perceived Sandgren as vulnerable—as someone suddenly exposed to intense public scrutiny—he might have misread the dominant tone. (The most forceful mainstream headline was on Deadspin: “What Does Pizzagate Truther Tennys Sandgren Find ‘Interesting’ About the Alt-Right?”)
Greenwald was particularly struck by Sandgren’s “brave and defiant” second press conference. In response to the media’s “bullying groupthink,” he hadn’t apologized. This perception of Sandgren’s circumstances helps illuminate Greenwald’s political writing, which focusses on dramas of strength and weakness, and on the corruptions of empires. Greenwald writes aggressively about perceived aggression. His instinct is to identify, in any conflict, the side that is claiming authority or incumbency, and then to throw his weight against that claim, in favor of the unauthorized or the unlicensed—the intruder. Invariably, the body with authority is malign and corrupt; any criticisms of the intruder are vilifications or “smears.” He rarely weighs counter-arguments in public, and his policy goals are more often implied than spoken.
Greenwald’s model will satisfy readers, on Twitter and elsewhere, to the extent that they recognize the same malignancy, or agent of oppression. Many might find this kind of framing appropriate, and inspiringly forthright, in a discussion of policing in Ferguson, Missouri, or of the American meat industry’s efforts to thwart animal-rights activists—a current interest of Greenwald’s. Many readers, though certainly not all, could also agree that Edward Snowden had engaged in a courageous insurgency. (In Laura Poitras’s 2014 documentary, “Citizenfour,” Greenwald tells Snowden that, once Snowden’s identity becomes known, “the fearlessness and the ‘fuck you’ to the bullying tactics has got to be completely pervading everything we do.”) Fewer people, though, would interpret Sandgren’s story this way, if showing sympathy for him must be accompanied by disparagement of everyone else—if one must agree that the reporters covering Sandgren were bullying when they noted that a public figure, however naïvely, had promoted conspiracy-minded and white-supremacist ideas.
In the buildup to the 2016 election, Greenwald detected a conflict between actors defiantly contemptuous of American norms—the Republican Presidential nominee, WikiLeaks, Vladimir Putin—and the establishment forces that he hates, including the U.S. intelligence services, “warmonger” neoconservatives like William Kristol, and big-money Democrats. That August, in an Intercept article that used the word “smear” a dozen times, and ended with an image of Senator Joseph McCarthy, Greenwald argued that “those who question, criticize or are perceived to impede Hillary Clinton’s smooth, entitled path to the White House are vilified as stooges, sympathizers and/or agents of Russia: Trump, WikiLeaks, Sanders, The Intercept, Jill Stein.” He wrote that both Trump and Stein, the Green Party’s Presidential candidate, were being “vilified for advocating ways to reduce U.S./Russian tensions.” (Even though this article included Trump on the list of those being “smeared,” Greenwald told me that he had only ever invoked McCarthyism in reference to “Democrats who accused me and others like me of being Kremlin agents.”) After the election, he scorned those “screaming ‘Putin,’ over and over.” Later, on an Intercept podcast, he said that Democrats had embraced, without evidence, various “conspiracy theories” about collusion; American liberals were caught up in an “insane, insidious, xenophobic, jingoistic kind of craziness.”
In the period since then—these months of Guccifer 2.0 and Natalia Veselnitskaya and Carter Page—Greenwald has continued to portray the Trump-Russia story as, essentially, one of rotten American élites and unruly insurgents. Although he has acknowledged the failings (not to mention the indictments) of some people in the insurgent category, he has focussed his editorial energy on documenting the past infractions and continuing misjudgments of people—in the intelligence agencies, the Department of Justice, Congress, and the media—who have provided apparent evidence of Russian interference and Trump-campaign collusion. Greenwald has questioned their reliability, and has disputed their evidence, to a degree that has frustrated even some colleagues at the Intercept. On Twitter, Greenwald recently described the self-identified “resistance” to Trump as “the first #Resistance in history that venerates security state agencies.” He has denounced the congressman Adam Schiff, the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, who has sought to investigate Trump-Russia in the face of Republican obstruction, as “one of the most hawkish, pro-militarism, pro-spying members of the Democratic Party.” He has tweeted, “I don’t regard the F.B.I. as an upholder of the rule of law. I regard it as a subverter of it.” Greenwald told me, “Robert Mueller was the fucking F.B.I. chief who rounded up Muslims for George Bush after 9/11, and now, if you go to hacker conferences, there are people who wear his image, like he’s Che Guevara, on their shirt.” Maddow and other liberals may show respect to the former C.I.A. director John Brennan when he accuses Trump of colluding with Russia, but Greenwald’s view is that Brennan, who sanctioned extraordinary rendition, should be shunned.
These critiques have changed Greenwald’s place in American political life. “My reach has actually expanded,” he told me. “A lot of Democrats have unfollowed me and a lot of conservatives or independent people have replaced them, which has made my readership more diverse, and more trans-ideological, in a way that’s actually increased my influence.” His audience now ranges from leftist opponents of Hillary Clinton, such as Susan Sarandon and Max Blumenthal, to right-wing figures such as Sebastian Gorka and Donald Trump, Jr.
To liberals grateful for institutional counterweights to the Trump Administration’s crookedness, cruelty, and mendacity, Greenwald has been discouraging: U.S. institutions have long been broken, he maintains, and can offer only illusory comfort. To protest the flouting of American norms is to disregard America’s perdition—from drone strikes and unwarranted surveillance to the Democratic Party’s indebtedness to Wall Street and Silicon Valley. Shortly before Trump’s Inauguration, Greenwald wrote an article for the Intercept titled “The Deep State Goes to War with President-Elect, Using Unverified Claims, as Democrats Cheer.” The Drudge Report promoted the article, and it went viral. This had the effect of offering the phrase “deep state”—which, until then, had been a murmur among political scientists and fringe bloggers—as a gift to Trump defenders. Roger Stone referred to the article in an interview with Alex Jones, on Infowars; Greenwald spoke of “deep-state overlords” on “Tucker Carlson Tonight.” According to data from the GDELT Project, the phrase “deep state” then took off—first on Fox, then on other networks, and then in the tweets of the President and his family.
Betsy Reed, the editor-in-chief of the Intercept, recently told me that “Glenn has a core of incredibly passionate and dedicated followers.” But, she added, she is wary of “a kind of pale imitation of Glenn—people who may be partly inspired by him, but don’t have the nuance or intelligence that he has.” She was referring to Russia skeptics of the left, on Twitter and elsewhere, “who are so convinced that they are being lied to all the time that anything that the intelligence community says can’t possibly be true.” Reed’s view is that, at this point, “it’s not helpful to the left and to all the candidates and causes we favor to continue to doubt the existence of some kind of relationship between Russia and the Trump campaign. We know some basic contours of it now, thanks to Mueller, but I think we may learn more. And we can’t refuse to see what’s in front of us.”
Joan Walsh, the national-affairs correspondent of The Nation, and Greenwald’s former editor at Salon, recently said that left-wing Trump-Russia skepticism contains “real disdain for what the Democratic Party has become.” She went on, “That would mean its closeness to finance, and Wall Street.” But she thinks that it also means “the ascendance of women and people of color in the Party, and the fact that that coalition defeated Bernie Sanders.” (After the election, in an e-mail to the Intercept staff, Greenwald, a Sanders admirer, defended himself vigorously against internal suggestions that the site’s coverage of Clinton had been “anti-woman.”) A former Intercept staff member told me, “I feel bad for Glenn. I feel that Trump winning is the worst possible thing that could have happened to him, and it sort of ruined him as a valuable voice in American discourse.” Reed told me that Greenwald would surely have been “more comfortable being part of the #Resistance” had Clinton become President.
In 2011, Greenwald published a book whose title—“With Liberty and Justice for Some: How the Law Is Used to Destroy Equality and Protect the Powerful”—could serve as a headline for much of what he had written in the previous six years. He had given up a career as a litigator in New York, moved to Brazil, and started to write, first as a blogger and then as a columnist for Salon. In the book’s first chapter, he wrote, “It has become a virtual consensus among the elites that their members are so indispensable to the running of American society that vesting them with immunity from prosecution—even for the most egregious crimes—is not only in their interest but in our interest, too.”
When Greenwald and I first met in Rio, we sat at a dining table made of dark, heavy wood, and he served extraordinarily strong coffee. I asked him whether, despite his wariness about the discourse surrounding Trump and Russia, he took any satisfaction from the discomforts of élites, such as Michael Cohen and Paul Manafort, who were losing layers of immunity each day.
“On one level, I agree,” he said. “It’s great that people like Paul Manafort are finally being held accountable for their sleazy K Street practices, and their money laundering and all of that.” He talks fast, and often at a volume suited to a poor Skype connection. “But I really don’t think it’s about justice. I think the people who are doing this are genuinely offended by the entire Trump circle, in part for political and ideological reasons, and in part because he has broken all of the rules of their world, in terms of who gets to be in power, and what you have to do to get it.” He went on, “They’re just using the law as a political weapon against Trump, just as Brazilian élites are using it against Lula.” He was referring to Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, the leftist former President, who had just begun a prison term for corruption and money laundering.
Greenwald told me, “I don’t think that, once Trump leaves office, we’re going to have a revolution in law where rich and powerful people are going to be held accountable in the way that poor people are.” Trump is a criminal, he said, surrounded by “fifth-tier grifters” who, under normal circumstances, would be “generating PowerPoints to defraud pensioners.” But most public expressions of distress about corruption in Trump’s circle struck him as a “pretense.” He said, “The people who hate Trump the most are the people who have been running Washington for decades. It’s not so much that they’re bothered by his corruption—they’re bothered by his inability to prettify and mask it.” Greenwald then made an analogy that placed a Trump associate like Manafort in the unexpected role of a racial-bias victim: “Let’s say there’s a city where drivers are driving recklessly, and lots of people are being killed because of it. And the police department decides that, from now on, if we see any black drivers speeding, we’re going to give them a ticket, but we’re going to let white drivers continue to speed with impunity.”
To Greenwald, an agonized response to Trump carries with it the delusional proposition that previous Presidents were upstanding. He said, extravagantly, “When Trump invited President Sisi”—the Egyptian strongman—“to the White House, everybody acted like this is the first time an American President ever embraced a dictator.”
I asked him if anti-Trump sentiment implies that America, absent Trump, is virtuous. “It does, yes,” Greenwald said. “What was the campaign slogan of Hillary Clinton? She said, ‘America is already great.’ This was the platform that Democrats ran on.”
Becoming an expatriate served Greenwald’s reputation. However pleasant (and, in the end, moneyed) his life became, he remained apart from despised American élites—and felt able to tweet that Katie Couric’s purchase of a twelve-million-dollar Manhattan condo had underscored her remove from “the political impulses & circumstances of ordinary Americans.” There was also a hint of martyred exile. The Defense of Marriage Act, passed in 1996, denied Miranda the immigration opportunities of a spouse, and, over the years, Greenwald reminded people who questioned his long absence from America that he was a victim of discrimination. “I could throw that back in people’s faces,” he said. “And then, fortunately for the whole world but unfortunately for that excuse, in 2013 the Supreme Court struck down that law. So I lost my excuse, and now I just admit I’m here because I love the country.”
After it turned dark, we drove across the city to a television studio, in order to allow Greenwald to have an argument with Eli Lake, the Bloomberg columnist, whom Greenwald has called a “rabid cheerleader” for the Iraq War. Miranda had been delayed at work, so Greenwald brought the children. They are brothers, now aged nine and ten, from the poor northeast of Brazil; the couple adopted them last fall. They sat in the back seat, looking amused and a little restless, alongside a temporary member of the family’s staff—a security officer hired after Marielle Franco, one of Miranda’s colleagues and closest friends, was murdered, in March. Franco, like Miranda, was a black, gay, working-class member of the city council. In what was likely a political crime, Franco’s car was followed one evening by men who then shot her and her driver.
A jacket and a pressed shirt were hanging by an open back window. We drove down to the beach, then followed the ocean, eastward, through the neighborhoods of Ipanema (where Greenwald met Miranda, in 2005, on a gay section of the beach, at the start of a vacation) and Copacabana. Here, Greenwald’s sons saw a friend playing soccer on the sand, and while we were stopped at a traffic light they repeatedly yelled his name, laughing after they failed to get his attention.
Greenwald speaks Portuguese, but the boys have only begun to learn English, so he was speaking privately when he complained to me about how, a few days earlier, they’d woken him at dawn. “They were fighting over a video game,” he said. “I almost murdered them. I almost drowned them in the pool.” (He was laughing—he uses the same language when describing spousal disharmony.) “I called my mother later that day, and I said, ‘They’re fighting so much, and I just hate their fighting.’ And she’s, like, ‘This is proof there’s karmic justice, because all you did was fight with your brother, all day and night. I’m so happy that you’re getting this.’ And I’d completely forgotten. I was, ‘Oh, my God, that’s so true, I hated my brother.’ We love each other, but . . .”
Greenwald was an infant when his parents moved from Queens to Lauderdale Lakes, Florida, and he was six when they separated. In a later conversation, Greenwald said of his father, “He was fucking the woman next door. They didn’t divorce because of that, but it was a factor.” His father, an accountant, moved into an apartment, but for a while he often stayed with the neighbor. “I would see him in the morning coming out of that house,” Greenwald said. “Still a good father—I had good parents—but that was the first breach.” His father died in 2016, after a chaotic and drunken decline; he had refused all help, and had not taken medication. When Glenn told a therapist that he’d found this refusal enraging, her response had a Greenwaldian tint: “She’s, like, ‘I see this as such a powerful and courageous thing he did—he basically told all of you to go fuck yourselves, that he was going to live his life, and die, the way he wanted.’ ”
“I did it!”
Greenwald’s older son, he told me, has frequent bursts of anger, which reminded him of his own emotions at that age. He noted, “What I went through is nothing compared to what he’s been through”; still, he said, “I fought with everybody, I argued with everybody.” At school, he said, he “felt smarter than my teachers,” adding, “Things came very easy to me, so I felt like I could get away with a lot.” He identified as poor, in part because his house was uncared for: roaches, holes in the couch. And, when he began to understand that he was gay, he felt that others judged him to be “radically broken and diseased and evil.”
Greenwald’s planned documentary, produced by Reese Witherspoon’s company, will trace the personal and cultural impact of Navratilova’s coming out, in 1981, when he was fourteen. In a proposal for the film, Greenwald frames his regard for Navratilova in his preferred way, with reference to her “radical defiance,” “vulnerability,” and “incredible strength.” (He presents her as someone who never described herself as “bisexual”—a hedge used by some gay celebrities of the era. This is wrong: Navratilova did sometimes call herself bisexual, notably in her 1985 autobiography.)
Greenwald noted that some gay teens respond to persecution by assimilating, or by escaping into the arts. He then said, “My strategy was: you have waged war on me, and now I’m going to wage war back on you. I had to hide who I was, because it was shameful and wrong. And I wanted to make them feel the same way—‘No, you’re shameful and wrong.’ ” This force, he said, had propelled his success on debate teams in high school and in college, at George Washington University.
The TV studio was in a tower above a mall. Leaving the boys to run around in the stores with the security officer, we went to the thirty-seventh floor. It was about 8 P.M. Greenwald disappeared for a minute, and returned wearing self-administered makeup, a jacket, a shirt, and a tie, as well as his shorts and flip-flops. He contrasted his preparedness with the baggier TV impression made by Noam Chomsky, a friend and a frequent ideological ally: “He won’t make compromises to have greater access—he won’t put on a shirt and tie, he won’t speak in sound bites. I think you have the obligation, if you believe in what you’re saying, to maximize your audience.” Chomsky and Greenwald have described the Trump Presidency differently. In a recent television interview, Chomsky said that Trump is an agent of American élites more than he is an offense to them. He also recognized a stark moral line between the Democratic Party and the Republican Party, arguing that the G.O.P.’s opposition to addressing climate change has made it “the most dangerous organization in human history.”
Greenwald sat on a stool, and a technician affixed an earpiece. As he waited for an Al Jazeera studio in Washington to be ready, he put on red-framed glasses and read from his laptop. Hearing Lake’s voice in his ear, he said, “Hi, Eli. Do you like my glasses?”
Greenwald and Lake debated the case for American bombing in Syria, as a response to a recent chemical attack in Douma, which had killed dozens of people. (The next day, U.S. missiles hit three targets in Syria.) Lake favored intervention; Greenwald did not. He briefly acknowledged the scale of human suffering, calling it “a problem in the world that’s really horrendous,” but he emphasized, as Chomsky has done, that a humanitarian rationale for American armed intervention was “generally the excuse that’s used” for geopolitical maneuvering.
One of Greenwald’s debating assets is charmlessness. He brings scant greenroom bonhomie onstage, and rarely smiles; he seems content to risk appearing disagreeable, or wrongheaded. This approach works best when it is set against eye-rolling disdain or fear. Lake was measured and genial. After the segment, Greenwald felt dissatisfied. “I just know Eli too well,” he said. “We’ve just fought and argued on every medium.” Lake’s views were “horrible”—he was a “hard-core neocon and a loyalist to Israel”—but he “doesn’t take himself super seriously.” He’d also been supportive of the Snowden reporting.
Lake later told me that he thinks Greenwald is mistaken in believing “that everything that the U.S. government does is malevolent.” But he added, “In a weird way, I’m grateful that there’s somebody as articulate, unrelenting, and consistent as Glenn making that argument.” He also described the discomforts of being criticized by Greenwald on Twitter: “There’s a Greenwald Effect,” he said. “His followers are like the flying monkeys in ‘The Wizard of Oz.’ They crush you in your mentions.”
“Kane, shut the fuck up—seriously,” Greenwald said. Some of his dogs are allowed inside; others live outdoors, and now and then strike wolflike poses at the summit of the boulder. Because there was always someone arriving at or leaving the house—friends, couriers, domestic staff—there was always a new reason to bark.
During the Presidential transition, the Washington Post ran a story with the headline “RUSSIAN HACKERS PENETRATED U.S. ELECTRICITY GRID THROUGH A UTILITY IN VERMONT, U.S. OFFICIALS SAY.” This didn’t hold up well: a computer at Burlington Electric had triggered a malware alert, but it may have been false, and the computer wasn’t connected to the grid. The paper appended a correction and published a self-admonishing article by its media critic. Greenwald, unsatisfied, went on Tucker Carlson’s show and called the Post story “the grandest humiliation possible.” He also wrote a dozen tweets, and a two-thousand-word article. “The level of groupthink, fearmongering, coercive peer pressure, and über-nationalism has not been seen since the halcyon days of 2002 and 2003,” he argued. A year later, CNN and other outlets published, and then retracted, the claim that, in the fall of 2016, Donald Trump, Jr., had learned about hacked Democratic National Committee e-mails before WikiLeaks posted them online. Greenwald declared the error a “humiliation orgy,” and he appeared on Laura Ingraham’s show, above a chyron reading “MALFEASANCE IN THE MAINSTREAM MEDIA.” He claimed that there had been a “huge series” of media mistakes about Russian interference.
Greenwald’s other critiques of Trump-era reporting—of oversold scoops and neglected non-Trump stories, from Yemen to Catalonia—are valuable. But it’s not easy to see that the media has been disgraced by a handful of mistakes that were quickly corrected. To many people, Greenwald has looked ravenous and gleeful. He disputed this characterization. “The screwups have been quite numerous,” he told me. Errors are inevitable, he allowed, but “my problem with these mistakes is that they’re all in the same direction of exaggerating the Russian threat.” One could argue that Carlson and other Fox journalists may have made errors of threat-underestimation by, say, breezing past Trump-Russia revelations or failing to pursue investigations. But it might be fairer to say that, until we learn all there is to know about the Trump Administration’s involvement in the Russian scheme, the seriousness of any journalistic neglect is hard to measure. Either way, Greenwald surely can’t be confident that he’s witnessed a grievous imbalance in screwups.
He sought to clarify his position on Russian interference: “I’ve said that of course it’s possible that Russia and Putin might have hacked, because this is the kind of thing that Russia does to the U.S., and that the U.S. has done to Russia, and to everybody else in the world—and far worse—for decades.” He’d never insisted “on the narrative that Russia didn’t do it.” When James Risen, the former Times investigative reporter, who joined the Intercept last year, recently debated Greenwald on a podcast—a public airing of internal tensions—Greenwald bristled at the suggestion that he had ever considered the idea of Russian interference a hoax. “I never said anything like that,” he said, explaining that his demand for serious evidence was connected to the deceptions propagated before the Iraq War.
If Greenwald has never proposed that a Russian hacking scheme was inconceivable, his rhetoric hasn’t always signalled an open mind on the issue. In the summer of 2016, he referred to narratives of Russian malfeasance as smears. That October, the Department of Homeland Security and the director of National Intelligence firmly accused the Russian government of hacking; Greenwald characterized this as an “assertion” that presented “no evidence.” (Classified intelligence is generally withheld.) Since then, as the accusation has been fleshed out and gained almost universal acceptance, Greenwald has chosen to highlight the commentary of people who sound deranged about Russian interference. His work has sought to create the impression that the pervasive voice of concern about the Trump-Russia story is found not in articles by national-security reporters, including those at the Intercept, or in congressional questioning of Erik Prince, or in Mueller’s indictments, but in jokes and unhinged theories—in a Twitter oddball like Louise Mensch suggesting that “Andrew Breitbart was murdered by Putin, just as the founder of RT was murdered by Putin,” or in Howard Dean asking if the Intercept is funded by Russia. When Preet Bharara, the former U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, jokingly fantasized, on Twitter, about Jeff Bezos buying the platform and then deleting Trump’s account, Greenwald described this as “moronic, plutocratic dreck” and added “#Resist.” He received fourteen thousand likes.
Tommy Vietor, Barack Obama’s former National Security Council spokesman and the host of “Pod Save the World,” recently said of Greenwald, “He’s rightly pointing out that there are some liberals, some Democrats and activists, who ascribe every problem in the world to Russian interference.” (For years, Greenwald mocked Vietor as an emblem of “imperial Washington,” but the two men have had a slight rapprochement, to become “sort of friends,” in Greenwald’s description.) Vietor continued, “That said, clearly something happened.” Greenwald’s distaste for #Resistance dreck, and for its reach into the mainstream, is surely sincere, but his unabated marshalling of it has looked tactical. Even if Greenwald came to accept that some kind of intrusion by some Russians was likely, he could still continue to taint the idea by highlighting nuttiness.
“Ninety per cent of what he’s done on the Trump-Russia story is media criticism,” Risen told me. He said that Greenwald, through such commentary, has implied that the Trump-Russia story is bogus, even as he has maintained an official agnosticism. This is disingenuous, Risen said, adding, “I wish he was more honest and open in the way he wrote about this.”
Greenwald told me that his role was “to evaluate convincing evidence and then report to my readers what it is that happened, based not on my beliefs but on the actual evidence.” Such a stance could never be “disproved.” Betsy Reed recalled Greenwald telling her that it’s never wrong to be skeptical. One could argue that overriding, sustained skepticism, in response to reports of bad acts, could indeed be a mistake, and wouldn’t be an ideal posture for, say, a 911 dispatcher.
Greenwald asked me, “What evidence has ever been presented for the central claim that Putin ordered the D.N.C. and John Podesta’s e-mail to be hacked, as opposed to the hacking being done by people of Russian nationality?” Did Greenwald dispute that Guccifer 2.0, the persona responsible for distributing hacked D.N.C. e-mails to WikiLeaks and other outlets, had come into focus as an agent of Russian military intelligence? (A month before the 2016 election, Greenwald co-wrote an article, about the Clinton campaign’s handling of the press, that was based on exclusive access to material supplied by Guccifer 2.0.) We were speaking shortly before the indictments, in July, of twelve Russian intelligence officers. I mentioned a recent article in the Daily Beast, “ ‘Lone DNC Hacker’ Guccifer 2.0 Slipped Up and Revealed He Was a Russian Intelligence Officer,” which had been co-authored by Spencer Ackerman, a former Guardian colleague of Greenwald’s who had worked on the early Snowden stories. “Each story you can dissect and pick apart, right?” Greenwald said. “They’re based on anonymous sources. They’re based on evidence that you can question.”
Ackerman told me that he liked and respected Greenwald, and that “people can be interested in what they’re interested in.” But, he said, “it’s conspicuous when they’re not interested in a massive story for which the simplest explanation is that there was a Russian intelligence operation to elect Donald Trump President.” He added, “Some people are interested in reporting this out. Some people—I would include myself—are interested in reporting this out without any contradiction of the impulse that led us to report the Snowden story. Some people are not.”
Greenwald and I talked about his definition of “evidence.” In the case of Russia, he seemed to use the word to mean “proof.” His evidentiary needs in this context could be contrasted with his swift, easy arrival at certainty in many other contexts. Greenwald assured me that Tennys Sandgren “didn’t have a racist bone in his body.” He had recently tweeted that Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of Britain’s Labour Party, was not anti-Semitic, and that suggestions otherwise were “guilt-by-association trash.” It would be truer to say that Corbyn’s record provides some evidence of anti-Semitism, and that supporting him requires a response to that.
Shortly before we met, Greenwald tweeted a link to an article about the poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal, in the South of England, using Novichok, a nerve agent. It was “100% clear,” Greenwald wrote, that Boris Johnson, the British Foreign Secretary, was “lying” when he told a reporter that British scientists had confirmed that the agent had originated in Russia. To be precise, the scientists had merely identified the chemical, not its origin (though the Russians invented it). Johnson’s remarks were inexact, but he almost surely wasn’t being deceitful. To show one’s skepticism about an official narrative by proclaiming that one knows the narrative to be a lie could be defended as an act of anti-authoritarian pluck. But it doesn’t tell readers “what it is that happened.” Asked about this tweet, Greenwald said, with good grace, that a British friend had made the same point to him. Perhaps he had erred. Greenwald’s offline openness to rebuttal—in contrast to his online bloodlust and sarcasm—was always a nice surprise. But he hadn’t corrected his remarks, which were retweeted several hundred times.
“We have, all the time, different levels of evidentiary certainty based on the context, based on the role that we’re playing,” Greenwald said. To allege Russian interference in 2016 was to levy a charge against “a longtime adversary of the United States, one that is still in possession of thousands of nuclear weapons aimed at American cities.” He continued, “Before we all accuse that country of having done something so grave as have its leader order the hacking of these e-mails in order to interfere in an election, I think the evidence we demand ought to be pretty high.”
Was the charge “grave”? He had just called it the stuff of everyday international relations. “I personally don’t think it’s grave,” he said. “But there are millions of Americans who believe the election of Trump is this grave threat. So if you convince them that what has endangered them is Putin—you hear Democrats comparing this to 9/11 or Pearl Harbor—that’s really dangerous rhetoric. I don’t think it’s particularly grave at all, even if it’s true. I think it’s a very pedestrian event.” The risk, then—one also identified by President Trump—was that unfounded American hysteria could set off a nuclear war. Put another way: the choice is between Greenwald and the end of the world.
He later said, “If there was evidence inside the U.S. government that genuinely proved collusion—an intercepted call, an e-mail—it would have been leaked by now.” (He seemed to be disregarding the discipline displayed by Mueller’s investigation.) He added that, even if Putin himself had ordered the hacking, “and worked with WikiLeaks and Michael Cohen and Jared Kushner to distribute the e-mails,” then this was still just “standard shit.”
I said that he sometimes seemed to be giving argumentative form to a psychological preference: it was perhaps more satisfying to defend a besieged opinion than to share an agreed one and thereby become tainted with tribalism. This was “totally accurate,” he said, kindly. Then: “Maybe not totally.” He went on, “I think the role we end up playing in politics, in public discourse, in life, is almost always a by-product of who we are psychologically.” Greenwald’s preference, then, is to enact the dynamics of an unequal power struggle, even as he describes one.
His choice of journalistic subjects was also pragmatic, he said. Over the years, he could have written more often about gay rights, or abortion, areas where his views largely conform to progressive orthodoxy. But he didn’t feel that his time was “best spent saying things that zillions of other people are already saying.”
Upon the release of Mueller’s July indictments, which contained detailed descriptions of Russian methods, Greenwald tweeted that “indictments are extremely easy to obtain & are proof of nothing.” He urged “skepticism toward the claims of prosecutors who have turned the U.S. into a penal state, and security state agencies which have turned the U.S. into a militaristic imperial state.” After Michael Tracey, another journalist who is largely dismissive of Trump-Russia reporting, wrote mockingly about the respect being paid to “our Lord and savior Mueller,” Greenwald expressed fellowship by noting that the act of “asking for evidence, and refusing to believe it until you see it, is literally heretical.”
A few days later, on the phone, Greenwald had news. He had “talked to a bunch of people and figured out what I thought, in the most rational way possible,” and now regarded the indictments as genuine evidence of Russian hacking—the first he’d seen in two years. To think otherwise, he said, “you’d pretty much have to believe that Mueller and his team fabricated it all out of whole cloth, which I don’t believe is likely.”
He hadn’t tweeted about this yet. He was still pondering the best way to announce it. “I want it to be substantive—I don’t want it to be distorted,” he said. “If I did it on Twitter, it would be ‘Oh, Glenn Greenwald admits he’s wrong!’ I don’t actually think I’ve been wrong about anything.”
In 1994, not long after Greenwald graduated from N.Y.U. School of Law and took a job that he quickly came to hate, at Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz, a New York firm, he learned about Town Hall, a conservative forum, sponsored by National Review and the Heritage Foundation, on Compuserve’s dial-up network. He applied to join, at a cost of twenty-five dollars a month. In his teens, Greenwald had been close to his paternal grandfather, a left-wing member of the Lauderdale Lakes city council. After his grandfather retired, Greenwald, at eighteen and again at twenty-two, ran for the same council—inspired more by the promise of conflict than by an impatience to serve. (“I don’t think I’m a politician,” he told me. “My skill is not making everybody like me.”) As a student, Greenwald had paid little attention to politics. “There weren’t big wars, big causes,” he said. But his career in competitive debating had been stellar, and he knew that he disliked Rush Limbaugh conservatism. He joined Town Hall “just to start fucking with them,” he said. “I guess it was trolling, before trolling existed.” He posted comments as DerWilheim, a name chosen for reasons he says he cannot recall. “I often think about how happy I am that nobody will find those,” he said. “I’m pretty sure those things are gone.”
He was the forum’s exotic. “They knew I was gay and a lawyer in New York,” he said. He found the community to be “incredibly welcoming.” In 1996, he flew to Indiana to attend a Town Hall conference. “My friends were, ‘Are you fucking insane?’ ”
He later added, “That early Internet experience—the Wild West—was really important to my development. For gay people, and for anybody who felt any sense of shame or constraint about their sexual identity and their sexual expression, the Internet was this incredibly powerful tool. And not just sexually, but whatever parts of yourself are there and you’re not really sure about and you know you can’t really show most people. I think that part of my bond with Snowden was that the Internet was so crucial to his own development.” Snowden used to post on Ars Technica, about sex and programming, as TheTrueHOOHA. Greenwald said of him, “He grew up in a lower-middle-class household in central Maryland—very stultifying, and homogenous. When you have a place where you can be anything, or do anything, or say anything, you realize how emancipating that is, and to lose that is a huge loss.” In “Citizenfour,” Snowden says to Greenwald, “I remember what the Internet was like before it was being watched.”
In 1996, Greenwald set up his own law firm. He didn’t vote in 2000, but after 9/11 he paid closer attention to politics, from a position of some confidence in George W. Bush. Greenwald has written that, in 2003, he trusted Bush about Iraq: “I accepted his judgment that American security would be enhanced by the invasion of this sovereign country.” That trust was soon lost. And by 2005, when Greenwald started his blog, he wrote as a critic of U.S. torture and rendition policies, and of legal theories defending them.
But the blog’s name, Unclaimed Territory—a reference to “Deadwood,” the HBO frontier drama—indicated Greenwald’s self-image as an independent spirit. When he wrote that Howard Dean was “non-ideological, sensible, solidly mainstream,” he was being nice. Bush Administration horrors were transgressions, not signs of chronic imperial disorder. In 2005, Greenwald censured anti-Americanism, which he defined as the inclination “to vigilantly search for America’s guilt while downplaying, ignoring, or excusing the guilt of its enemies”—to be driven by the idea that the U.S. “is a uniquely corrupt and evil country.”
The younger Greenwald might have blanched at a question Greenwald asked last summer: “Who has brought more death, and suffering, and tyranny to the world over the last six decades than the U.S. national security state?” At one point, Greenwald told me that he saw no difference between Putin’s use of Novichok against a political antagonist—if such a thing had happened—and Obama’s use of military drones. “I don’t think the U.S. government is morally superior to the Russian government in terms of the role it plays in the world,” he said. Greenwald responded to Russia’s shooting down of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, in 2014, by tweeting a reference to the U.S. Navy’s shooting down of Iran Air Flight 655, in 1988. When ISIS filmed a captured Jordanian pilot being burned alive, in 2015, Greenwald immediately published a post on the Intercept about civilian injuries from napalm, during the Vietnam War, and from U.S. drone strikes. His headline was “Burning Victims to Death: Still a Common Practice.”
In 2006, he wrote a slim, sharp book, “How Would a Patriot Act?,” which became a best-seller. Greenwald wrote fast; by 2008, he had published two more books. He was an early adopter of Twitter, although in 2009 he observed, on C-SPAN, that it might “degrade our discourse even further.” (Greenwald told me, “I was so prescient! I wish I’d listened to myself.”) His writing became more polemical and less legalistic, emphasizing debate-team reiteration of an argument’s greatest strength. As Joan Walsh, then at Salon, recently put it, “He was not interested in convincing people—he was interested in telling the truth.” His book “Great American Hypocrites,” published in 2008, opens with an essay that repeats a single thought—that conservative politicians “talk tough and prance around as wholesome warriors,” like John Wayne, while leading personal lives that are “the exact opposite”—to the point that it reads like a mechanical malfunction.
Before Barack Obama became President, in 2009, Greenwald was optimistic about the candidate’s likely respect for civil liberties. He recalls telling himself, “He’s a law professor, it’s embedded in him the way it is in me.” But Obama was unable to close Guantánamo, and, as Greenwald saw it, he failed to stem abuses of executive privilege, and security-state excesses. Ben Rhodes, a speechwriter and a deputy national-security adviser in the Obama Administration, told me, “I think that anything short of the President attempting to completely dismantle the national-security apparatus of the United States was going to leave Greenwald disappointed.” In Greenwald’s view, the start of the Obama Presidency revealed “a dichotomy between the people who were actually serious in their critiques of the Bush Administration and people who were just Democrats. And I became the critic of the Democratic Party from the left.”
Walsh recalled that, “for a long time, we were absolutely on the same side, and then suddenly we weren’t always.” She added, “He’s always had a libertarian streak, but I thought of him as on the left—in his own lane, but on the left.” As the divide between Greenwald and Obama supporters widened, “we did have conversations about race and about gender,” Walsh said. “I thought he could persuade people if he occasionally paid more attention to the concerns of black people who saw Obama as being in an impossible situation, and being held to a different standard. Those conversations I don’t think went anywhere.”
One morning at the house in Rio, Miranda met with some of his colleagues, and with Greenwald, to discuss electoral strategy. Miranda, now thirty-three, stopped attending school at thirteen. He later re-started his education, and in the summer of 2013, while Greenwald was in Hong Kong with Snowden—in a sour-smelling hotel room filled with a week’s worth of room-service trays—Miranda was taking his final exams for a degree in advertising and communications. Three years later, he ran for the Rio city council, as a member of a small party, the Socialism and Liberty Party, and won. This fall, he is running for Congress. As the meeting broke up, Greenwald said that he and Miranda had decided to “make a film in Jacarezinho, the favela where David grew up—huge and very deprived—and get David’s family with him, and talk about how that formed him.” Miranda, who didn’t know his father and whose mother is dead, is lighter-skinned than other family members, “but he is black,” Greenwald said, “and it’s about how to claim that identity, not to let people take away that identity.” (Miranda had recently stopped using hair-straightening products.)
Greenwald, who had earlier compared Miranda’s electoral appeal to Obama’s, acknowledged that, in 2016, after he interviewed Dilma Rousseff, in Brasília, in the Presidential palace, he and Miranda wondered for a moment how easily the building could accommodate two dozen dogs. When Miranda sat with us, Greenwald used the phrase “if you’re successful in your congressional race,” and Miranda laughed. “I will be!” he said. “Be positive, dude.”
Greenwald left the table to get food. Miranda said that, for most of Rio’s electorate, his having a foreign partner wasn’t a liability, but he allowed that his relationship with Greenwald had drawn some unfriendly local commentary. (A senior media figure in the city later told me, with amusement, that Miranda now spoke Portuguese with a slight American accent.) Miranda told me, “I’m black and he’s white, a lawyer from New York. I’m younger and”—shrug, slight hand movement—“good-looking, and I came from the favelas.” He went on, “But here we are, thirteen years together. Two fucking kids who we love! Twenty-four fucking dogs! I think we proved we love each other.”
Greenwald brought out some brittle baked pasta. Miranda, who takes cooking seriously, looked despairing and said, “You overcooked his pasta, Glenn.”
“Not as much as I overcooked mine,” Greenwald said, cheerfully.
“Oh, God,” Miranda said.
They talked about the day, in May, 2013, when Snowden, already in Hong Kong, sent Greenwald some samples of the N.S.A. material he had obtained. This included a presentation about PRISM, the then unknown program that facilitated the collection of data from major American Internet companies. That day, Greenwald and Miranda, stunned, talked for five hours. “We knew our lives would change,” Miranda said. “We made a promise that the only thing that cannot change is us.” (Greenwald has changed a little, Miranda told me: “He was pretty big, but he became this monster.” He was referring to the size of his reputation.) Later, Miranda showed me photographs that he took while sitting with Beyoncé, Jay Z, and Jennifer Lopez at the Vanity Fair Oscar party in 2015, after “Citizenfour” won the award for Best Documentary. “Jay Z was asking me to sit in his lap,” he said. By then, Greenwald had gone back to their hotel. (“It was suffocating, it was too much,” Greenwald told me.)
“Journalists don’t just get sources—journalists create sources,” Snowden told me, speaking on a video line from Russia during the World Cup. (He had established, he said, that in soccer each side has “a maximum of eleven players.”) He recalled first noticing Greenwald during the Bush Administration; he read the blog, and felt a sense of fraternity in their shared disillusionment. “I signed up for the Iraq War when everyone else was protesting it,” Snowden said. Greenwald struck him as unbeholden to official sources, and unencumbered by “a fear of being taken to be unserious, or shrill, if you go over the boundaries of polite conversation.” Over the years, Snowden said, reading Greenwald “probably caused me to become more skeptical.”
In December, 2012, Snowden reached out to Greenwald, who had recently been hired away from Salon by the Guardian. (As at Salon, and now at the Intercept, Greenwald’s Guardian contract stipulated that, unless he requested an editor’s guidance, his columns would be published directly to the Internet.) Snowden e-mailed him, using a pseudonymous account, and encouraged him to set up encryption that would allow them to communicate safely. Greenwald didn’t get around to it. Snowden began to talk with Laura Poitras, and then with the journalist Barton Gellman. In April, Greenwald and Snowden finally started an encrypted conversation. Three days after opening the PRISM file, Greenwald flew to New York, and from there, with Poitras and Ewen MacAskill, a Guardian reporter, to Hong Kong. In the Mira Hotel’s lobby, “this fucking kid shows up,” Greenwald recalled, laughing. “Honestly, my first reaction was ‘O.K., our source is gay and this is, like, his lover. His little wispy young lover.’ ” Snowden, for his part, was struck by the level of Greenwald’s attention: “He had a consuming incandescence about this story. He was driven. Things weren’t happening fast enough, there were always more questions. There was just a carnivorous desperation to learn what was going on, and then to tell people about it.”
They met on Monday, June 3rd, and by the end of the day Greenwald had drafted his first Snowden story, about the N.S.A.’s access to Verizon phone records. On Wednesday, Spencer Ackerman, in Washington, invited the White House and the N.S.A. to respond. Ben Rhodes, who was then in the White House, recalled that “it kind of hit us like a freight train.” In Hong Kong, Greenwald became impatient with what he perceived to be unnecessary delays. It was a “very simple” story, he said, based on a single document. Greenwald went on, “I was taking sleeping pills and Xanax and every conceivable narcotic to sleep just a little bit—but I couldn’t. I was filled with adrenaline and nerves.” He sent a draft of his article to Betsy Reed, at the time the executive editor of The Nation. “She got back to me thirty minutes later and said, ‘We’re happy to publish this.’ ”
Miranda said, “I wouldn’t let him publish in The Nation.”
“It’s a step down,” Greenwald said.
“It’s a step down.”
Miranda recalled urging Greenwald to tell the Guardian that, if it didn’t publish the story soon, “we’re going to put the documents on a Web site.” (He added, “That’s when the idea of the Intercept was created, right there.”) The Guardian published it that evening.
James Risen told me, “I think that Snowden, and that story, brought out the best in Glenn.” Rhodes, disagreeing, said that, given Greenwald’s “Chomsky-like” distrust of American power, “the core challenge here is trying to understand to what extent this was a matter of whistle-blowing on behalf of a public debate about transparency, and to what extent this was just about undermining U.S. foreign policy.”
Greenwald later said that, in Hong Kong, he had worried that Snowden might slip into China, thus creating the impression that he was an asset of Chinese intelligence. Had Snowden actually been one, Greenwald said, it would not have affected his reporting, but it would have changed his opinion of his source. Moreover, he said, “what protected me legally was the popularity of the story, and its popularity would certainly have been lessened if he’d been revealed as a Chinese spy.”
But Greenwald said that he had not felt unnerved when Snowden eventually was granted asylum in Russia. He accepted Snowden’s account: that, upon leaving Hong Kong, his intention was to reach Latin America, but the plan was thwarted by the revocation of his passport, leaving him unable to transfer flights in Moscow. Snowden has said that, before arriving in Russia, he relinquished his access to his material. Rhodes told me, “It’s impossible for me to believe that the Russians haven’t debriefed him on multiple occasions.” When I asked Greenwald if Snowden could have coöperated in ways other than giving up documents, he said, “I can’t guarantee that he didn’t share information with them.” But Snowden had told him that he hadn’t done so; Greenwald added, “In all the time I talked to Snowden, I’ve never, ever known him to lie to me.”
He went on, “I think the reason Putin accepted Snowden in Russia is because he just liked the idea of being the protector of human rights against the United States. So, instead of the United States getting to say, ‘You, Russia, are persecuting people who are political dissidents,’ Putin got to say, ‘We’re giving him rights, because he’s going to be persecuted in the United States.’ ”
Trolling? “Yes, exactly.”
Snowden and Greenwald used to talk every day. Now a week or two can pass without contact. Greenwald visited Snowden in the spring of 2014, and then again this summer, when he appeared on a panel discussion in Moscow, broadcast on RT, the Russia-backed English-language news network, and moderated by RT’s editor-in-chief. Greenwald told the audience that, after Trump’s victory, “the American political system needed an explanation about why something like that could happen, and why they got it wrong.” One explanation, he said, was that “it was this other foreign country over there that was to blame. And that’s a major reason why fingers continue to be pointed at the Russian government.” (When Greenwald was criticized online for appearing on RT, he claimed, incorrectly, that the BBC is also “state-controlled.”) On Instagram, Greenwald posted a photograph of Snowden eating an ice-cream cone. Snowden had told me, “We’re not like buddy-buddy. There’s a distance. We don’t talk about our personal lives. We don’t call every Wednesday and say, ‘Hey, you want to play bingo online?’ ”
Greenwald is not naturally collegial. In Rio, on a conference call about his Navratilova film, he faced gentle resistance to one of his ideas. Smiling, he raised a middle finger to the phone, and then started exchanging back-channel texts with someone else on the call. Afterward, he congratulated himself on his restraint, saying, “People come into working with me assuming I’m this, like, demanding, abrasive asshole, so I don’t want to play into that stereotype right away. I want to wait at least a month.”
Greenwald co-founded the Intercept in 2013, with Poitras and Jeremy Scahill; the funding came from Pierre Omidyar, the founder of eBay. (The site paid Greenwald half a million dollars in its first year.) Greenwald does sometimes consult with an editor before posting, but there have been times when Reed has regretted that he did not. And it’s clear that there’s a category of Greenwald article for which there’s limited appetite in New York. Reminded about a fifteen-hundred-word article, in January, animated by the fact that Neera Tanden—the president of the Center for American Progress, a Democratic think tank—had retweeted a foolish remark about Chelsea Manning, Reed smiled, in a “tell me about it” way.
In the Trump era, Greenwald seems to be most energized when he discovers flaws in Democratic messaging, or in the output of an MSNBC contributor; this summer, he wrote a piece about a single uncorrected error by Malcolm Nance, a former intelligence officer, who had mistakenly said that Jill Stein had a show on RT; Greenwald used the words “lie,” “fabrication,” and “falsehood,” and their variants, twenty times, and proposed that “NBC News and MSNBC have essentially merged with the C.I.A. and intelligence community,” and that “anyone who criticizes the Democratic Party or its leaders is instantly accused of being a Kremlin agent.”
Some of Greenwald’s admirers seem to register only the fighting spirit, and not the actual claims, in this kind of writing. Dan Froomkin, who until last year was the Washington editor of the Intercept, told me that, after someone had criticized this article on Facebook, he had replied, “Do you dispute the accuracy of a single thing Glenn wrote?” When I asked Froomkin about the claim of an MSNBC/C.I.A. merger, he laughed, and said, “Oh, God, did he really say that?,” before defending it as hyperbole.
Some people at the Intercept have questioned Greenwald’s decision to appear on Fox News. According to Reed, “It’s become so entirely an organ of not even just the Republican Party but the Trump Administration, and it has no compunction about spreading lies, so I think there are real questions about why anyone would go on there.” Greenwald told me, “I don’t know why it’s O.K. to ally with Bill Kristol but not Tucker Carlson.” I reminded him that he has mocked MSNBC and CNN for giving Kristol airtime. “I think there’s a difference between giving someone a platform—inviting Bill Kristol on—and my going and using Tucker Carlson’s audience,” he said.
Greenwald’s position on Trump and Russia has come to define the Intercept: recently, when I was in an elevator at the New York office, an employee made a joke about the “Russian-funded” opulence of the premises. When the Intercept hired Risen, last September, Greenwald suspected that the move was intended to offset his Trump-Russia opinions. “People have denied it, but I disbelieve those denials,” he told me. This skepticism seems to be well founded. Risen told me that his focus on Trump and Russia was “to help change the perception” of the site. (Reed, describing Risen’s hiring, said he needed reassurance that Greenwald would have no editorial influence over him.) Greenwald said, “I don’t think the majority of people who work at the Intercept—because they’re good liberals—are supportive of my whole posture with regard to Trump and Russia. That’s fine with me. If they want to get someone who sounds like David Gregory to write at the Intercept, it doesn’t really take away from anything I’m doing.” (He later said that this wasn’t a reference to Risen, whom he called a journalistic hero.) Risen said of Greenwald, “He looks at stories and thinks, What are the implications of this story for the political positions that I hold? And I try to look at a story and say, ‘Is this a good story or not?’ ” He added, “I consider him a friend. We have good conversations.”
Greenwald went on to describe his frustration with an Intercept story, published last summer, that was based on an N.S.A. report leaked by Reality Winner, an N.S.A. contractor. The article described an attempt by Russian military intelligence to introduce malware into the computers of U.S. election officials in 2016. In Greenwald’s view, the story was overblown: the N.S.A. analysis included no underlying evidence. Before publication, Greenwald vetoed a suggestion that Snowden be invited to examine the leaked material. “I said, ‘I think it’s not a very good idea to send a top-secret N.S.A. document that purports to describe Russia to Russia.’ ” He laughed. “Not even I would look very kindly on that, if I were in the Trump Justice Department.” He was also dismayed, as many people were, that the Intercept had not properly disguised the document before showing it to the government for verification, making it easy for Winner to be identified as its leaker; she was arrested shortly before publication. The Intercept apologized, and supported her legal defense. The site “fucked up,” Greenwald said. He added that, if he didn’t work there, he might be wondering aloud why nobody was fired. (On August 23rd, Winner was sentenced to five years in prison.)
WikiLeaks offered ten thousand dollars for the name of whoever at the Intercept was responsible for Winner’s exposure. Greenwald and Julian Assange had become allies during the Bush Administration, but their relationship was disrupted in 2013, when Snowden chose not to work with WikiLeaks. And, after Greenwald was exposed to Snowden and his trove, he became less supportive of the WikiLeaks approach, which typically involves publishing data in bulk, without curating or redaction. In our conversations, Greenwald noted that among the Podesta e-mails published by WikiLeaks were remarks about a campaign worker’s serious mental-health problems; publishing that, he said, was “grotesque and incredibly immoral.”
I was told that Greenwald now speaks harshly about Assange in private, but in our conversations he described a civil relationship that navigated around “Julian being Julian.” Greenwald told me that he had three visits with Assange late last year. And he framed the preëlection alliance between WikiLeaks and the Trump campaign as a human response to extreme conditions. Assange was understandably focussed on escaping from what he has defined as imprisonment, in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, and Trump could potentially help him. Moreover, Greenwald said, Assange “likes to be a big player—that’s super important to him—and if you’re releasing stuff and Donald Trump is talking about it every day, that massively increases your importance.”
Greenwald has a daily tennis lesson. One afternoon in April, on a hotel’s court, his coach asked him how he’d performed in a tournament the previous weekend. Greenwald had been beaten thoroughly, despite intensive preparation. He’d mentioned this defeat to me, which was at the hands of a “ridiculously good” young man who had clearly entered the tournament at the wrong level. “I didn’t want to complain, because I try not to inject lawyer-journalist energy into my recreational activities,” Greenwald said, laughing. “But at the same time I felt it was a bureaucratic injustice.” He had “only once” intentionally served the ball, without a bounce, directly at his opponent.
After he played with the coach for twenty minutes, cursing, it began to rain. I told Greenwald that, during his lesson, it had been reported that Sean Hannity had been named as a client of Michael Cohen’s, and that Trump had blocked sanctions against Russia that Nikki Haley, the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, had announced the previous day. In our conversations, Greenwald had made much of Trump’s willingness, earlier that month, to apply sanctions against twenty-four Russian oligarchs and officials. And he had tweeted that “the Trump Administration has been more willing to confront Russia & defy Putin than the previous president.”
He began to respond to this news while trying to get out of the hotel’s parking lot. The machine wouldn’t accept his ticket. Looking at the barrier in front of us, he said, “I’m so tempted to just ride through it, which is a fantasy of mine, from childhood. Look at how weak that is—I could definitely break that.” He added, “I want to do something violent.”
He moved a cone, and drove around.
Greenwald asked me: What was being suggested by those who found it significant that Trump had undermined an expansion of U.S. sanctions? Even if nobody was quite arguing, he said, “that Putin called Trump and said, ‘Hey, I’m about to release the peepee tape unless you pull this back,’ ” it was surely implied. But wasn’t it as likely, he went on, that “Trump, like Obama, simply believes it makes more sense for the Russians and the Americans to coöperate?”
He seemed to be running parallel arguments: Trump was tough on Russia; Trump, wisely, was not tough. Greenwald said, “You can punish them occasionally but have an over-all philosophy—that over-all philosophy of ‘Let’s just get along with the Russians’ has been turned into something treasonous.” He went on, “Even if he has weird dealings with Russia, I still think it’s in everybody’s interest not to teach an entire new generation of people, becoming interested in politics for the first time, that the Russians are demons.” (Later, shortly before the Helsinki meeting between Trump and Putin, Greenwald told “Democracy Now!” that the meeting was an “excellent idea.” Risen wrote that Trump’s decision to meet Putin alone was “at best reckless.”)
If, for many years, a writer has described his fears about the state of America, does he find it galling when others make much of their sudden new fear? Embedded in Greenwald’s hostility to Trump’s critics seems to be the aggrieved question “What took you so long?”
“Yes, yes!” Greenwald said, emphatically, as he drove. Years after he began writing critically about expanded Presidential powers, “all these powers are now in the hands of Donald Trump,” he said. “He gets to start wars. So I do get a sense that, O.K., people are going to finally understand that this model of the American Presidency—this omnipotence, this lack of checks and balances—is so dangerous. But the problem is they’re being told that the danger is endemic to Trump, and not to this broader systemic abuse that’s been created. And that’s why I’m so opposed to the attempt to depict Trump as the singular evil. It’s not just partial or incomplete—it’s counterproductive, it’s deceitful.”
He was acknowledging an ideological incentive for minimizing criticism of the President. “We all make choices in what we’re going to prioritize,” he said. “I could go online and denounce Trump all day, and my life would be easier and more relaxing.”
Greenwald, who didn’t vote in 2016, and who sees Bernie Sanders as the best likely candidate for 2020, later told me that, compared with current conditions, a Clinton Presidency would have been “better in some ways, and worse in other ways.” He referred to the likelihood that Clinton would have pursued military action in Syria. Trump’s election, he said, had energized public debate about “what kind of country we should be.”
Greenwald took me to see a dog shelter that he and Miranda opened last year. Staffed by homeless people, most of them gay or transgender, it’s in the garden of a once grand house, now occupied by squatters, on a forested hillside. A dozen abandoned cars surrounded a swimming pool half-filled with green water. He talked with a colleague about how to defuse a conflict between two factions of homeless people living on the property. A woman had announced that she intended to kill an antagonist. “It’s a war,” Greenwald told me, matter-of-factly. He lay on his back with a dog in his arms, and looked serene. ♦
An earlier version of this article incorrectly identified Betsy Reed’s role at The Nation; she was the executive editor, not the editor. It also described the timing of Reality Winner’s arrest incorrectly; Winner was arrested shortly before the Intercept published its story, not shortly after.