•Press Release Bolivia Latin America and the Caribbean US Foreign Policy World
Washington, DC — Threats and questions from a trial attorney working with the Department of Justice, related to research and analysis commissioned by the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) should be thoroughly investigated, CEPR Co-Director Mark Weisbrot said today. The questions, and threats of a subpoena, were addressed to a researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) whom CEPR had contracted to replicate its original statistical analysis of Bolivia’s October 2019 election results. The DOJ’s correspondence with the researcher was first revealed in a report by The Intercept on Tuesday.
As The Intercept reported, the actions by a DOJ attorney appear to have implications for press freedom, as the DOJ’s questions related to work that the researchers published in The Washington Post, which generated considerable media interest and discussion. The statisticians’ article confirmed CEPR’s analysis refuting claims of election fraud made by the OAS shortly after Bolivia’s 2019 general elections. These false claims by the OAS, as The New York Times later reported, “fueled a chain of events that changed the South American nation’s history.”
“It’s difficult to imagine a legitimate reason for questioning these academic researchers, and even worse threatening them with subpoenas when they declined to be interviewed,” Weisbrot said. “The DOJ’s actions were an attack on academic and press freedom. They would be expected to have a chilling effect on those who questioned the official lies about this Trump-backed military coup, and this could very well have been the intent.”
Weisbrot noted that these DOJ officials were investigating a published report based on publicly available data: “I would love to see these people have to answer, under oath, what they were looking for and why.”
The Intercept’s report, and seven pages of email correspondence between Angela George, a trial attorney at DOJ’s Office of International Affairs, and Jack Williams, a researcher based at MIT, shows that George repeatedly contacted Williams about his work, independent of MIT, on this election analysis, beginning in October 2020 and continuing into January 2021. George told Williams that she was following up on a “formal treaty request” made by the Bolivian government, and repeatedly sought to interview him. At one point in January 2021, George wrote to Williams: “if your statement below means that you cannot provide this basic information described above without a subpoena being served on you and the lab, then, I respect your wish and will take those steps.”
Under the Inter-American Convention on Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters, a treaty signed by both the United States and Bolivia, a request may be refused if it pertains to “a crime that is political or related to a political crime, or to a common crime prosecuted for political reasons.” Further, the requesting state, in this case Bolivia, must provide specific information as to the criminal matter being investigated. “Given that the request came from an illegitimate coup government that was responsible for massacres and political persecution, the DOJ clearly was under no obligation to comply,” Weisbrot noted. “The DOJ should make clear what the actual request was and what internal processes were followed, or not, in complying with it.”
Before moving forward with a request for legal assistance under the treaty, the DOJ must present the request to the appropriate district court for approval. An anonymous DOJ official told The Intercept, “This particular request is not your run-of-the-mill criminal investigation, so you can be fairly sure that it received very high-level exposure.” In order to determine whether the DOJ’s actions complied with its legal obligations, it is imperative that authorities launch a full investigation into the DOJ’s cooperation with the Bolivian coup government. “It simply strains credulity to think this was anything other than the Trump administration doing a favor for its friends in Bolivia,” Weisbrot said.
CEPR contracted Jack Williams and John Curiel to try to replicate CEPR’s statistical analysis of Bolivia’s October 2019 election results, and thereby show whether CEPR’s results were verifiable. Williams and Curiel’s results matched CEPR’s.
Two days after Bolivia’s October 20, 2019 elections, CEPR issued a press release showing that there was no evidence of a “drastic” and “inexplicable” change in the trend of the vote count following an interruption of the transmission of the election results, as the OAS had falsely alleged. That OAS claim and subsequent similar statements by the OAS became the foundation of the military coup that overthrew Bolivia’s democratically elected government. These claims have since been refuted by The New York Times, professors at Tulane and the University of Pennsylvania, 133 economists and statisticians, a study by a University of Michigan statistician, and several CEPR reports, in addition to Williams and Curiel’s analysis.
“This could be further evidence of the Trump administration’s role in helping the 2019 Bolivian coup to succeed,” Weisbrot said. “There were numerous statements of support from the Trump administration for the racist, de facto government that took power following the coup. This is another reason why the DOJ should explain what this request was about, who knew about it, and why they went so far as to threaten to subpoena answers from someone regarding academic research published by The Washington Post.”