On Monday I got a great scoop on the huge Bitcoin lawsuit between Craig Wright and the estate of Dave Kleiman. Modern Consensus ran my short interview before the courts made any announcement. On Tuesday, someone waited outside my unlisted home address to give me a subpoena for all of my calls, texts, recordings, Whatsapp, and even my encrypted Signal and Snapchat messages. Here’s how it went down and how I’m going to fight it.
Long story long: I’m a journalist and the court has no right to any of my files, notes, thoughts or personal belongings. They are not getting anything from me. Damn the man!
That evening, I first heard a rumor that the courts might come down in favor of Ira Kleiman getting $6 billion in bitcoin from Craig Wright in their court battle. No official court record had been published. Even reporters and witnesses in the courthouse at the time hadn’t released any statement we could find. Craig Wright doesn’t tweet, he generally doesn’t appear in the media, and he did not release a statement. But I have had great fun interviewing Craig Wright over the years and he does take my calls. So I did what journalists should do: I tried to get him on the phone. He picked up. We had a nice chat and ran the story right away.
I was on vacation at the time, but I snapped into battle mode and got the story out. This is what journalists do. Honestly, this is the fun part. Modern Consensus has a small team and the story only got to us at about 8 p.m. on a Monday. Our colleagues at Bloomberg, CoinDesk, and Wired—publications we read and enjoy—had nothing. These outlets have people working around the clock to uncover stories. I beat them to it while on vacation.
That afternoon, I came home and saw that my latest eBay binge had been delivered. Moments after I went inside with the only two packages I’d ordered, my intercom rang. “Package for Mr. Brendan Jay Sullivan. Is this Brendan Jay Sullivan?”
I already had all the packages I’d ordered. I know I didn’t have any more. But, yeah, part of me was like, “Oh! Someone sent me a present!”
Through the peephole I saw a shabbily dressed middle-aged man. He’s not holding a package. Liar. I wait. He rings again. “I’m not expecting any packages.”
He says through the closed door: “It’s…it’s a subpoena in the case of Ira Kleiman vs. Craig Wright.”
My first thought was that Craig was suing me. He did this before! He sued a podcaster for £100,000. Craig and I get along, but he’s a billionaire who was about to lose $6 billion. How was I to know what kind of mood he was in?
So I Facetimed Lawrence Lewitinn, Modern Consensus’ editor in chief. He cruelly laughed at me. I had tickets to a show that night so I dumped the papers and went out. I worked my way through a bottle of tequila on the installment plan.
Wednesday: What’s in the subpoena?
In the subpoena, Ira Kleiman’s attorneys requested “Copies of all emails, communications, and documents between you and Craig Wright.”
When they said communications, they meant EVERYTHING. The list ran over two pages, “Whatsapp messages, Signal messages; Twitter DMs.” If the document is in a folder “the file folder is included in the request for production of those documents.”
“The relevant period for these requests is January 1, 2006 to the time of response to this subpoena.” If any document is undated, I’m supposed to make a copy of it for them just in case.
So if Craig sent me a birthday card on May of 2006—two years before Bitcoin was invented—they want a copy of it. If Craig sent me an Edible Arrangement when I was in high school but DIDN’T sign and date the card at anytime, they want a copy of it.
Sorry, lawyers. Non servum.
They also made four requests:
“REQUEST 1. Copies of all emails, communications, and documents between you and Craig Wright.” Oh yeah? Get bent. Craig deleted his Twitter a long time ago, so you’ll never see our sparkling chats about wine.
“REQUEST 2. Copies of any and all recordings, notes, or other record made of any interview or meeting with Craig Wright, this includes, but is not limited to, the August 26, 2019 interview memorialized in the article: First interview with Craig Wright after judge orders him to pay $5 billion in bitcoin.” Hey, boss! Look they shared the link! It’s on the record! Does that mean I get a bonus?
Why shouldn’t I just turn over what I have? Because this is the goddamn United States of America. As a journalist, I take my sources very seriously and I protect their confidentiality.
They also want copies of any chats between my editor and I about the story. It is not the court’s business how we walk about stories or what we joke about.
This isn’t a matter of national security. We’re not up against Al Qaeda here. This is about how many people will become billionaires when the courts divvy up $10 billion in funny money.
“REQUEST 3. All drafts of the article.” I’ll stop you right there. No. It is nobody’s business how many typos I make when I’m having a beer on vacation. I also fully admit that I called Ira Kleiman—a person I have never met and don’t have a problem with whatsoever—Ira Wright like half a dozen times in my first draft. (Ira Wright is the name of Seth Rogen’s character in the Judd Appatow movie Funny People.)
“REQUEST 4. All communications and documents related to the and publication (sic), and interview memorialized in” the article. That’s another big no. Why? Because where do we start? Should I send over:
- My bad short stories from creative writing class in college? Those made me the writer I am today and are “documents related to the and publication and interview.”
- Some notes from an interview I did with Gay Talese on the art of the Interview? That’s how I learned how to lead an interview without ever asking questions.
- A breakup email that I got from someone in 2008? After all, if we’d stayed together I would have had a much different life and I wouldn’t be on vacation with my parents at my age.
Finally, the real reason I’m not giving these blood suckers anything: I called an attorney today. Since I live in New York and reported this story from there, I am protected by the Civil Rights Law § 79-h known as the “Shield Law.”
Basically, journalists collect information. Lawyers want that information so they can sue people and win cases. But we don’t work for them and even responding to lawyers takes time away from the meaningful work of exposing the truth about tech companies. According to the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. “New York courts thus afford the broadest possible protection to those engaged in ‘the sensitive role of gathering and disseminating news of public events,’ and they do not hesitate to quash subpoenas issued to reporters in both criminal and civil actions.”
“According to one judge the first New York case in which a reporter refused to reveal his sources dates back to 1735, when John Peter Zenger was prosecuted for publishing articles critical of the New York colonial governor.” So like my anti-colonialist forbearers, I’m taking on the monied interests and telling them to get lost.
You can have my crisp, clear audio recording of my conversations with Craig Wright over the past several years when you come here with a “Motion to Compel” from another court entirely. The Kleiman estate’s right to this $6 billion fortune ends where my rights as a journalist begin.
And if this costs them $6 billion? I don’t care! It’s not my job to settle the case.
“New York Civil Rights Law § 79-h provides an absolute privilege from forced disclosure of materials obtained or received in confidence by a professional journalist or newscaster, including the identity of source.”
For that matter, if I knew the real identity of “Satoshi Nakamoto,” I could never, under any circumstances, be compelled to tell any courts who it was.
However, I would like to return this insulting $60 check to you. I can’t be bought. Page 1 of the subpoena said to meet in your Brooklyn offices “or such other place as it mutually agreed upon between You and counsel for Plaintiffs” by September 10, 2019.
How about Fiji? Send that weasel back to my house with two first-class tickets. I’ll meet you there.