Transcripts are generated using a combination of speech recognition software and human transcribers, and may contain errors. Please check the corresponding audio before quoting in print.
To read more about Episode 215, visit the main episode page.
Michael Moore [00:00:19] This is Rumble with Michael Moore and I am Michael Moore. My guest today is human rights and environmental activist lawyer Steven Donziger. Donziger is the lawyer who successfully sued the Chevron oil company on behalf of the people of Ecuador for deliberately discharging 16 billion gallons of toxic waste in the Ecuadorian Amazon between 1964 and 1992. For this amazing legal victory, what has Steven Danziger received? Well, today is the 800th day of his house arrest after Chevron has turned the legal tables on him.
Michael Moore [00:01:15] This is a bizarre Orwellian story that is happening right now right here in the United States of America. And I wanted all of you to hear this. Please make sure you are sitting in a stable chair or are walking on a flat surface as you’re listening to this because this is just blowing my mind. And I need to not just have my mind blown by myself. I need your mind blown with me so we can figure out what to do here, my friends. And thanks again to all of you who joined us on Tuesday night for our very first livestream Q&A. We had a great time with it and I’ll post a couple of things from it. This is a Q&A I did with the members of my Substack. Become a member. If you don’t become a member, just sign up for the free subscription to my weekly letter and to this podcast. It will be sent right to you in your email, go to MichaelMoore.com to do that.
Steven Donziger [00:02:50] Yeah, thank you for having me, Michael.
Michael Moore [00:02:52] You know, I have followed this story of the lawsuit against first Texaco then Chevron, Chevron bought Texaco. This is back almost maybe a decade ago. And your incredible victory in the Ecuadorian courts for the indigenous and very poor people of Ecuador who have had to suffer for decades from the toxic waste pollution, et cetera, caused by the drilling and mining of oil in Ecuador for these large American oil companies. And then you had this a decade or so, you had this incredible victory, over $9 billion that the Ecuadorian courts said that Chevron, Texaco, Chevron, had to pay to all the people who have been harmed in Ecuador.
Michael Moore [00:03:49] And I think anybody who remembers this case and Steven, as many of you know, is, as I said, one of our top human rights and environmental justice attorneys and activists. It’s one of those rare victories that happened back then. And then I and I think a lot of people sort of then just probably forgot about it. You know, weren’t paying much attention. And then all of a sudden recently, thanks to other people who’ve been covering this – from Katie Halper on her podcast to Democracy Now and others. All of a sudden I come to find out, and my apologies for not knowing this, that you are as of today, this is day 800 of you being under house arrest for just to be clear. And I’m going to turn this over to you because I want you, you’re obviously the best person to tell the story. But these 800 days, do you have an ankle bracelet on?
Steven Donziger [00:04:55] Yeah, I do.
Michael Moore [00:04:59] So I come to you today seven completely at a loss to explain to the people who are listening to this how in the United States of America and I almost sound like I’m being ironic here, but because we can no longer say, how is it that in the United States of America? Well, we’ve learned now everybody’s got their comeuppance. Everybody’s got the lesson that, yes, just practically anything awful can happen in the United States of America. And your story? It has messed with my head to such an extent, and I thought, how can I do this podcast in a way that will be effective, that will help people understand, to ask more questions and to demand justice here.
Michael Moore [00:05:47] So, Steven, I’m just going to turn this over to you and let you tell people why there is a monitoring device locked around your ankle? Why have you been inside your house for 800 straight days, not because of COVID, not because of personal choice, but because under threat of having the feds come and take you away? What did you do? What did you do to where our justice system, at least two judges now that I know of that are involved in putting you through what seems like a living hell? Tell them what has happened and then we’ll take it from there.
Steven Donziger [00:06:36] Thank you so much, Michael, for having me. I’ve been, you know, admired your work for a number of years, so it’s a real honor. I mean, basically what happened is I got out of law school in 1991. I wanted to do human rights law. I was invited to go to Ecuador, the Amazon of Ecuador, where I had been told that there was a massive pollution problem caused by Texaco. I went with some other lawyers, some scientists. We spent a week down there, expected to see pollution, saw really what looked like an apocalyptic nightmare with like literally lakes of oil on the ground of the jungle. Hundreds of open air unlined waste pits that Texaco had abandoned, and they had pipes on the sides that were running the cancer-causing oil waste into rivers and streams that the indigenous groups were drinking out of, of getting their drinking water out of, or bathing and fishing.
Steven Donziger [00:07:29] There were massive health problems, and it was just shocking to me to witness this with my own eyes. It was even more shocking to learn that this was not an oil spill. It was a deliberate design by Texaco to pollute in order to save money and to really play God with indigenous groups down in this region as well as rural communities. The upshot is over, you know, the 50 or so years since this problem began to manifest, thousands of people have died of cancer and other oil related diseases. It’s not a well-known situation, I think, largely because of its geographic isolation and because, you know, the big media in the United States has, for the most part, ignored the story.
Steven Donziger [00:08:18] But we filed a lawsuit here in New York in 1993 against Texaco, where Texaco’s headquarters were. Texaco fought for 10 years to move the case down to Ecuador, where they thought they could get it dismissed. They succeeded, so that took a big chunk of time. A lot of people were hurt and died during that time. We ended up going down to Ecuador, where they accepted jurisdiction. We fought for eight years, won a historic judgment in 2011. The trial was eight years because Chevron tried to obstruct it and delay it constantly because they were scared of the evidence. The evidence against them was overwhelming. There were 105 technical evidentiary reports, 64,000 chemical sampling results that all pointed to massive and probably unprecedented oil pollution in the world. You know, it’s called the Amazon Chernobyl, and the suffering has been intense.
Steven Donziger [00:09:12] Chevron bought Texaco in 2001, so they inherited this problem. The company had left Ecuador in 1992, and all the waste was still there. You can go down there today and see Olympic sized pools of oil all over the place. The judgment that we won was affirmed by six different appellate courts, 28 appellate judges, the Supreme Courts of Ecuador and Canada. Chevron had promised U.S. courts to comply with the judgment to pay it as a condition of moving down, moving the case out of the United States to Ecuador. They immediately went back on their word. They threatened the indigenous peoples with what they called a lifetime of litigation, if they didn’t drop the case.
Steven Donziger [00:10:00] This is after the indigenous groups had won, and they then adopted a campaign to demonize the lawyers, primarily me being I was instrumental on the legal team, but hardly alone. There were several lawyers. But because I live in New York and I had become sort of the public face of the legal team, they targeted me with this demonization campaign and they have since been harassing me through a federal judge here in New York named Lewis Kaplan, who’s a former tobacco lawyer. For about the last 10 years. They first sued me literally for $60 billion in damages.
Steven Donziger [00:10:40] Assuming personally, I’m a human rights lawyer. I live in a small apartment in Manhattan. I’m not a person of great means. And they sued me for the most money anybody has been sued for in American history. When I didn’t quit and that didn’t work, they sued me under the racketeering statute. Me and all of the 47 named villagers in Ecuador who run the lawsuit, claiming that the whole case was a conspiracy to extort money from them. And Kaplan denied me a jury in this RICO case. He let Chevron bring up a witness from Ecuador to whom they paid a bunch of money – $2 million plus dollars. They coached him for 53 days (the Chevron lawyers). And he came in court and lied about me, claimed to have been in a meeting where I approved the bribe of a trial judge in Ecuador, which was completely preposterous and false.
Steven Donziger [00:11:33] There was no evidence to support it. And again, the courts down there had rejected this evidence. But Kaplan, a former tobacco lawyer, found me liable for fraud on the judgment, which enabled Chevron then to go after me personally. They got Kaplan to impose literally millions and millions and millions of dollars of court costs and fines on me to reimburse them for their legal fees used to create this fake case against me.
Steven Donziger [00:12:02] That essentially white me out. They took money out of my bank accounts. They took our life savings. I’m married with a young son. And when they sought my computer and cell phone, and Kaplan ordered it. I was very open with Kaplan and said, You know, I’m going to appeal this order because, you know, it contains privileged information that’s protected by the law. And Chevron does not have a right to know our internal deliberations or any of this privileged information. And so he held me in civil contempt of court, which is what I wanted, so I could get an appeal of this order. This unprecedented order. And while I was appealing the lawfulness of his order that I turn over my confidential information to Chevron, he charged me with criminal contempt of court for appealing while his order was on appeal.
Steven Donziger [00:12:54] Again, unprecedented. He took his charge to the U.S. attorney’s office here in Manhattan that promptly rejected it and declined to prosecute me. He didn’t quit. He appointed a private law firm to prosecute me without disclosing the fact that the law firm by the name of Seward & Kissel had Chevron as a client. He did something even more outrageous, rather than the case being assigned through the normal random assignment process. He appointed the judge himself. Loretta Preska is a leader of the Federalist Society that is, you know, pro-business right-wing legal group. Chevron being a major donor. So both the prosecutor from Chevron law firm, the judge had strong ties to Chevron Fresca at the request of the Chevron lawyer prosecuting me promptly locked me up as a flight risk, which was completely preposterous. Put an ankle bracelet on me and put me in my home on August 6th, 2019.
Steven Donziger [00:14:02] Now, 800 days ago, now let me explain for some perspective how crazy this is. In the history of the United States in the context of criminal contempt, which happens when judges get angry at lawyers and feel like they’re disobeying their orders, the entire history of the Federal Court in New York, which began in 1789, the longest sentence ever given a lawyer convicted of my level of offense is 90 days of home confinement. No one’s even spent a day in jail. Preska, who locked me up as a supposed risk of flight, has now kept me at home confinement, you know, more than 8x that amount – 800 days. And on top of that, she has recently ordered me to serve a six month prison sentence, which is the maximum sentence one can give on a misdemeanor. But again, no one’s ever spent even a day in jail. So this is clearly, in my view, retaliation by Chevron and these Chevron connected, you know, judges in the Chevron connected prosecutor for my successful work, helping the indigenous peoples and rural communities down in Ecuador hold Chevron accountable.
Steven Donziger [00:15:15] So I’m suffering. It’s complicated, but we’re strong and we’re resilient and we’re going to, you know, we’re fighting through this and I’m getting a huge amount of support. But this has never been seen before in the United States of America. And let me be very, very clear, this is a corporate prosecution. I’ve never seen a corporate prosecution in America. I mean, I’ve seen a lot of corporate control, a lot of corporate influence over our institutions, but I’ve never seen a direct corporate criminal prosecution, but that’s what’s happening to me. I believe this issue goes well beyond me. I think it’s a part of the new playbook by the fossil fuel industry to use against activists and lawyers and others who were successful in their advocacy. And they’re trying to use my case as a weapon to intimidate other lawyers and advocates into not doing this critically important environmental justice work that not only is necessary to hold major polluters accountable, but I believe is also necessary to save our planet.
Michael Moore [00:16:10] If anyone is just tuned in or you have this podcast on pause and now you’ve come back into the room at some point here, this did start to sound like a work of fiction like, well, come on, first of all, let’s just go back to what you said. I heard you said the words private prosecutor. I’ve never heard those words in the United States of America, in my life. We have prosecutors. We have county prosecutors. We have DA’s. We have federal prosecutors there. They’re either elected. The county prosecutors often are elected, the federal prosecutors are appointed. I think they have to get approved by the Senate. So we don’t have a system of courts that are owned and run by private corporations. And yet your story and everything I’ve read, it keeps referring to the private prosecution of you and I’m thinking, Come on what I know, maybe they’re just trying to simplify the story because we’re civilians, we don’t know the law. But Steven, explain to people what you meant, when five minutes ago you said that, you were faced with a private prosecutor in a private prosecution within our very public judicial system. Funded and paid for by the taxpayers, not by corporations.
Steven Donziger [00:17:38] I have not been convicted in a fair trial. I’ve never been charged with a crime by a prosecutor, but the judge charged me and had his friend judge, convict me without a jury. So technically I’ve been convicted. I don’t think it was a fair trial and I’m appealing.
Michael Moore [00:17:53] In this country, right?
Steven Donziger [00:17:54] Yeah.
Michael Moore [00:17:54] And when you say his friend, the other judge. Why was there not a jury?
Steven Donziger [00:18:00] Well, OK. So you know, this is something I’ve never seen before and I’ve been practicing law for, you know, almost 30 years. I wish I did not know this could happen, and I’m shocked it has happened. And I believe it’s unprecedented and I believe it’s illegal, and I believe I will win my appeal. But I want to tell you how it’s happened so people can understand little tricks that the judges can employ to put one in this position if they’re threatening enough. And in my case, there is a very obscure federal rule in the courts that allows a judge to appoint a private prosecutor for contempt charges. In the rare cases, when there’s some sort of conflict of interest with the U.S. Attorney’s Office or there’s not enough resources or whatever. And in all of our research, we’ve only seen this rule used maybe, you know, five times in the last several decades since it came into existence.
Steven Donziger [00:18:55] And every time it was used, the person appointed was a neutral person, a former federal prosecutor who took his or her responsibilities seriously. So it’s extraordinarily rare to see this. But what’s never happened and is happening now in my case is the person appointed by the judge is not neutral. The person appointed works for Chevron. And Judge Kaplan essentially turned over our public prosecutorial apparatus to a private corporation to prosecute its main critic and deprive him of his liberty. You know, not just for a day or a week, but now, you know, for over two years. And it’s just inappropriate and unprecedented. And even scarier is the appellate court here in New York has not stopped it. I’ve gone up there twice and they just sort of say, Well, let’s let it play out and you can bring your appeal later. So that’s how it happened.
Michael Moore [00:19:56] But again, you know, my lawyers, and I have extremely well regarded lawyers, Marty Garbus, among them lawyers at Zuckerman Spader down in D.C. and Ron Kuby and Rick, I mean the lawyers who looked at this, who have helped me, John Keker, can’t believe it. And they all are in agreement that it’s patently illegal. But, you know, the whole process is so slow that they’re essentially getting away with punishing me. Without the conviction being reviewed by the appellate court and the goal now by Preska is to put me in prison for six months and make me serve the entirety of my supposed sentence before the appellate court can rule on the case and I think they’ll exonerate me. Or at least there’s a good chance. But she wants me to serve my whole sentence for a crime I didn’t commit. And it’s all a part of, I think, an abuse of power. I think it’s a game to make me suffer in retaliation for the work I did to hold a major American oil company accountable for the poisoning of the Amazon rainforest and the damage that’s caused to thousands of indigenous peoples. I mean, they just don’t like it, and they don’t want lawyers doing this work and they want to use me and use the harm they can cause me as an example to discourage people from doing this work.
Michael Moore [00:21:15] So when this Judge Kaplan turned the case over, as you said to a private corporation, you mean to a law firm?
Steven Donziger [00:21:22] I mean, to a law firm that works for Chevron and works for a lot of big oil companies. I mean, it’s really a fossil fuel industry law firm.
Michael Moore [00:21:29] And this law firm then became the prosecutor.
Steven Donziger [00:21:32] Yes, they’re a private law firm. They became a public prosecutor. They are billing exorbitant amounts of money over a million dollars so far to taxpayers for their work. When the normal public prosecutor, the professional prosecutors office here in New York and no matter what you think of the SDNY, you know the lawyers there, I have found to be professional.
Michael Moore [00:21:59] The federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York.
Steven Donziger [00:22:01] They refused. They saw Kaplan’s charges. They said, We’re not doing it, which is an appropriate decision, you know, so…
Michael Moore [00:22:09] Isn’t that when judge Kaplan said, Well, to hell with you, federal government lawyers, I’m going to appoint private lawyers and make them public, and they’re going to press this case.
Steven Donziger [00:22:20] Yes, because, you know, when a professional prosecutors office reviews a case and decides not to bring charges, that’s their discretion. It’s based on their professional judgment that should be respected. At that point, he should never have kept it going by appointing a private law firm and really abusing this very narrow rule to appoint a private law firm. Not to prosecute me, Michael, but I believe to persecute me.
Michael Moore [00:22:46] Well, that’s what it sounds like on this. I mean, Steven. Let me just get this clear because I’m telling you right now people are listening going: What? This is so bizarre. What is this poor man trapped in? So this Judge Kaplan is he a federal judge?
Steven Donziger [00:23:04] Yeah, he’s a federal judge appointed by Bill Clinton in the first Clinton term.
Michael Moore [00:23:09] OK, so he then decides, well, the federal public prosecutors in New York decided they don’t want to pursue this case, so he’s hell bent on wanting to pursue it. He hires this private law firm, which apparently there was some rule that allows him to do that. I’ve never heard of it. And then what was the reason you didn’t get a jury trial? Did you turn down having a jury?
Steven Donziger [00:23:36] No, no. I wanted a jury. I asked for one multiple times. Let me explain how it works. And again, this is another trick employed by some judges in our criminal justice system, I think, to deny due process. Look, the U.S. Constitution clearly states that if you’re charged with a crime, you’re entitled to a jury of your peers. Over time, there’s been this custom where if a judge agrees to limit your sentence to six months or less, you don’t get a jury. So what Preska and Kaplan did in this case is even though they charge you with criminal contempt. And even though I believe I was entitled to a jury, Preska says OK after locking you up for over two years pretrial I’ll limit your sentence to six months.
Steven Donziger [00:24:19] Sorry, buddy, you can’t get a jury in the criminal case. So the very judge who had already ruled I was a flight risk and ruled I was flouting court orders. Which was not true. That same judge who would lock me up for over two years became my fact finder, which is really frightening. So naturally, she found me guilty, obviously, to justify the fact she’d already locked me up for two years because I think what’s really driving this is the desire to criminalize environmental advocacy. I mean, that’s what really this is. Criminalize legitimate advocacy, and that’s what they’re doing to me. And a jury would never buy it. They know a jury would never buy this ridiculousness. So they just maneuver through the system. It’s the second time I’ve been denied a jury in these types of cases brought by Kaplan and Preska.
Michael Moore [00:25:09] Can I just stop you right here again? Because I can feel the audience listening to this and they’re all already shaking their heads enough to where they’re going to need physical therapy tomorrow. You just said now for the second time, not only that, you didn’t get a jury trial and you wanted one and were denied it, that this has happened twice to you in this Kafkaesque process. I have never heard, and boy, I can go through the list of everything in this country of what it’s done to people, whether it’s our fellow Americans or whether it’s seven children in a white Toyota in Kabul with a drone blowing them up and killing them. I know exactly what this government is capable of. So and that’s why I’m sure you decided to enter this kind of law, human rights, environmental justice, et cetera.
Michael Moore [00:26:06] But friends, who are listening to this right now, have you ever heard of somebody say I couldn’t get a jury trial? Did you know that there’s this rule that if the judge agrees that the sentence won’t be more than six months, then poof, there goes your right to a jury trial. I’ve never heard of this. I’m sorry to be so gobsmacked here when you’re in the middle of telling your story, but you understand why those of us who just are civilians, we’re not in the legal system we cannot hear these words in the United States of America, I was not allowed a jury trial or that I was then put and tried by a private prosecutor. I saw a storyline on the CBS show The Good Fight.
Steven Donziger [00:26:54] Mm-Hmm.
Michael Moore [00:26:55] I saw a storyline like this, but I know that’s fiction. This is real. I’m talking to you right now. You are, what, 20, 30 blocks from me. You’re under house arrest. This is day 800, as you told me just before we went on here. And you’re under house arrest because this is supposedly the pretrial of what? What’s the next trial supposed to be?
Steven Donziger [00:27:19] Well, right now, there’s no other trial schedule. Just to be very clear, when Judge Preska denied me a jury and agreed to limit the sentence to six months. She conducted a quote unquote trial last May that lasted five days, where I was represented by Ron Kuby and Marty Garbus. But it was a charade. I mean, the prosecutor, the Chevron prosecutor, came in and called two main witnesses: they were both Chevron lawyers. The judge had financial ties to Chevron via her leadership in the Chevron-funded Federalist Society. As I said, the prosecutor worked for Chevron law firm. It was a Chevron financed, Chevron controlled criminal trial without a jury. And we didn’t put on a defense. I mean, the judge ruled I couldn’t testify and tell my story as to why I had legal and ethical grounds not to turn over my computer to Chevron and why I appealed that order, which was legitimate, legal, ethical, according to experts and according to practice in this country. She wouldn’t let me defend myself.
Steven Donziger [00:28:23] So we didn’t put up a defense, and we’ve gone right into the appeal, which we’ve started to file. But in the meantime, and this is the ultimate trick that she’s trying to employ, she’s trying to get me to serve my entire six month sentence after this non-jury trial, where she convicted me after not letting me defend myself or put in evidence before the appeals court can rule and again, we believe there’s a very good chance the appeals court will reverse her conviction and exonerate me, which is why she’s so desperate to force me to serve my sentence. I mean, Michael, it’s almost unheard of in this country for anyone convicted of a misdemeanor with no criminal record, that’s me, to serve one day in jail. And this isn’t any misdemeanor. It’s what’s called a petty offense.
Michael Moore [00:29:07] It’s the most minor kind of misdemeanor in the federal system. You don’t serve jail time. So the fact that she’s giving me the maximum sentence in this souped up kind of thing where she denied me a jury just shows the degree of animus that I believe Kaplan and Preska and Chevron have toward me, and they want to punish the hell out of me and make me suffer in retaliation for winning the case down in in Ecuador. But right now, the issue is: Do I have to go to jail during the appeal or can we wait for the appeal to happen and to be resolved before, you know?
Michael Moore [00:29:42] Yeah, I don’t know. What is the misdemeanor you’ve been convicted of?
Steven Donziger [00:29:46] Criminal contempt of court, which was Kaplan just making up a crime. There’s no crime like this in the law. It’s basically a judge driven authority.
Michael Moore [00:29:56] But when we hear a lawyer is given a contempt of court citation, at least those of us who watch enough courtroom dramas. It’s because the lawyer has been badly misbehaving in court, standing up, objecting too much, not shutting up. The judge gets mad and then says, I hold you in contempt of court. Am I right that if there’s contempt of court against a lawyer, it’s because the lawyer has maybe lost his or her cool, and the only way the judge can get them to calm down is to threaten to lock them up for a night or a day or whatever? Am I watching too much TV?
Steven Donziger [00:30:39] That is one feature, of one type of contempt. But that’s not what I did. What Kaplan did to me is he ordered me to basically violate my ethical duties to my clients, you know, that is the indigenous peoples of Ecuador who are very vulnerable and suffering tremendously, by ordering me to turn over my computer and all of their privileged information to Chevron. So Chevron could essentially know everything they were doing, know their legal strategy, know where they lived and their identities. And I was obligated by law, as I saw it, by ethical guidelines not to do that. Now I am a man of the rule of law. Like, I don’t just ignore court orders. I’ve complied with thousands of court orders in my career. I mean, this has never happened to me.
Steven Donziger [00:31:21] But I believe Kaplan put me in this position deliberately to make me choose between complying with his unlawful order and complying with my ethical duties to my clients. And I was very open with him. I said, Sir, I cannot turn over the computer without a ruling from the appellate court. And I asked him to hold me in what’s called civil contempt, which is a civil punishment, not a criminal punishment, not a jail or anything. And he finally did that, and I appealed, and that enabled me to appeal his order to the appellate court. And again, while it was on appeal, he charged me with criminal contempt of court, and it was his decision and his decision alone.
Steven Donziger [00:32:00] I happen to think that judges should not have that kind of power, that it has to be approved by a normal federal prosecutor. And, you know, not to go back to civics or anything, but in our country and all rule of law countries, crimes are charged by the executive branch, by a prosecutor. They’re not charged by judges. OK, judges preside over the cases. They don’t charge the crimes. In this case, Kaplan essentially served as my prosecutor, my grand jury, my regular jury, my fact finder and now my executioner. I mean, it’s like all consolidated in the judicial branch. And again, it’s just obviously unconstitutional.
Michael Moore [00:32:39] Did you ever turn over your laptop or your phone or whatever so that they could glean the information they wanted from these devices?
Steven Donziger [00:32:47] No, I have not yet. And I say yet, because I’m more than willing to as long as a protocol can be put in place that protects privileged information. I mean he had ordered Chevron to be able to use any search term they wanted to look at anything on my computer. I mean, it was not a proper protocol, and it would have forced me to violate my ethical duties to my clients. So, you know, I look forward to the day when we can resolve this by negotiating a protocol that protects privileges and is consistent with the law. But I’ve never said I would never turn over my computer. That hasn’t happened yet, so I’m not in a position to turn it over, but I hope to be at some point. But, you know, I don’t think they really want my computer. I think what they want is to have me locked up in jail and they’re using, you know, the computer as a pretext to do so.
Michael Moore [00:33:37] Well, yes, and they don’t even in some sense want just you locked up in jail. What they want is you as an example. That’s why they haven’t done this under the cloak of secrecy and darkness. You weren’t sent off to a black site where, you know, everybody had hoods on their heads. No, this is to send a message, one I hate to be sending out via this podcast to anybody else out there who would dare to take on these oil companies to do it in the way that you’ve done it, to protect your indigenous clients by not allowing their information to be had by the oil company and willing to actually be under house arrest for over two years. And you’re, I assume, they’ve disbarred you by now. Right?
Steven Donziger [00:34:34] That’s another incredible thing. They disbarred me without even giving me a hearing where I could present or show evidence.
Michael Moore [00:34:40] OK, so you can’t make a living. This should send a chill down the spine of any young lawyer, any young activist, that if you want to end up like this guy…And Steven Donziger is someone who plays by the rules, someone who went to Harvard, this isn’t just some somebody that they could just, you know, find and kick to the curb. You’re one of our top environmental lawyers and top human rights lawyers. And this case is so outrageous that the United Nations Human Rights Commission has come to your side. Tell us about that. This is just stunning that now we have the U.N. and Amnesty International saying that there is a crime being committed against you. By this so-called democracy.
Steven Donziger [00:35:36] Yeah, I mean, it’s extraordinary. Isn’t it embarrassing? I shall add for our country. I mean, basically, the United Nations has various, as you know, you know, human rights bodies and working groups. One of which is called the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, where lawyers from Amnesty International filed a petition about my case last January. And a few weeks ago, they ruled that my entire detention at home was arbitrary and was a deprivation of my liberty in violation of international law. And they ordered the U.S. government to have me released, for them to pay me compensation for the harm caused to me and my family. And this came down about, I don’t know, a week or so before Judge Preska sentenced me to six months. And we brought it to her attention.
Steven Donziger [00:36:25] Our position is the government through her, she’s obviously a government official, she’s obligated to comply with this order. And of course, she completely ignored it. You know, there’s this whole view in The Federalist Society, where all these pro-business judges, that international law doesn’t apply to the United States, and she created the decision with nothing but hostility. But it’s an incredibly important decision. I urge people to read it. It’s on our website. It was signed by five highly esteemed international jurists who reviewed the record of what they were doing to me and concluded that it was a violation of international law. And I assure you, Michael, that if this kind of thing was happening in another country that was not friendly to the United States, a country like maybe, you know, Russia or China or Turkey, you know, the Congresspersons and the State Department, in a country like Iraq, for example, would be, I mean Iran, would be condemning it.
Michael Moore [00:37:25] They’d be all over it.
Steven Donziger [00:37:26] They’d be all over it, and they’re just totally ignoring it. And it’s unfortunate, but it’s a powerful, powerful decision that gives me enormous support and confidence.
Michael Moore [00:37:38] You know, the thing is and that chill, what they’re using you for, which is to shut all the rest of us up, so that Chevron and people like that can’t come after us. You know, it makes it more incumbent upon all of us to speak out, to go after them like we’ve never gone after them before. To get you out of house arrest, to end this madness with this private prosecution of you with these private corporate attorneys that are hired by this judge who has this connection to Chevron itself. One of your attorneys, I haven’t spoken to him about your case, but I will now because he used to be my attorney. More than a decade ago. He is, you know, Martin Garbus. His career began back in the 50s, early 60s, defending Lenny Bruce, the comedian, because he was constantly being arrested for telling off-color jokes in comedy clubs. Young people are going, What? Yes, They used to arrest comedians and put them in jail for saying bad words.
Michael Moore [00:38:52] But especially when the comedian started cutting too close to the bone politically, what was going on in our society. That’s when they got in big trouble. And Martin Garbus defended Lenny Bruce, and with me, the Bush administration had sent me an official notice that they were investigating, prosecuting me for going to Cuba because I took my camera crew to Cuba to film how the Cubans do their health care system for my film “Sicko.” And they were upset at me for that, and they were starting the proceedings to arrest me and prosecute me. And so Mr. Garbus came in and to hear that after all these years that he’s still doing this and helping you, I’m so happy to hear that. And I know that he would not take any case that didn’t have a righteous cause.
Michael Moore [00:39:52] And how are you? The obvious question people are wondering. I mean, I guess we all know, we’ve all been in our various quarantines and lockdowns and whatever. So funny after, you know, after a six month lockdown, I just started joking to people that, well, I’m good now. I know I could survive house arrest. Not so funny right now. But here you are. It’s not your choice to not walk outside your door. You have this monitoring device on you. So how are you holding up? And what is your glimmer of hope do you have that this will come to an end and your torture is going to stop?
Steven Donziger [00:40:37] Well, thank you for asking that. You know, how am I doing? I mean…
Michael Moore [00:40:43] Rell the truth, tell the truth. I mean, I know
Steven Donziger [00:40:45] It’s been a terrible ordeal, mostly for my son, who had just started his third straight year in school without his dad being freed and his dad wearing an ankle bracelet. It’s an ankle bracelet that I wear 24/7. I never take off. I have to sleep with it and eat with it and bathe with it, and it beeps at night sometimes and wakes us up when the battery runs low. It’s a reminder that the state is always shackled to your body and monitoring your every movement, even around your own apartment. I can’t go down to the lobby without court permission, even to get the mail. Everything is infantilized, meaning like for me to get out of the house for these very limited things I can do, like legal meetings, I have to get 48 hours advance permission from a court officer who, you know, checks the address and all that kind of stuff. You can’t go to dinner. You can’t, you know, the weather’s nice, you can’t go take a run with your kid. Can’t do anything.
Steven Donziger [00:41:52] And I think it’s designed to drive me crazy. I do think I am resilient enough to get through it, or at least I am so far. But it’s, you know, make no mistake about it, it’s not easy. It’s tough, but I do know Michael that it’s designed to, you know, drive me crazy and I refuse to let that happen. So, you know, we maintain hope. My wife and I, we were married 15 years. We decided when these attacks started ten years ago. Remember, I said I got sued for $60 billion? We looked at each other like, what the F is happening to our lives? And I said, Whatever happens, we cannot let a trauma turn into a pathology. You know, we have a kid and we said, We’re going to try to deal with this professionally and keep our internal life, as you know, as sort of normal quote unquote normal as possible, which we were able to do for a number of years until they locked me up. We still are committed to creating some degree of happiness every day in the four walls of our home, despite the situation. But it is, you know, it’s just, there’s just no end in sight and it’s terrifying. Honestly, it’s terrifying to know that the very people, i.e. judges, the very institutions, I mean, courts are not designed to protect our rights. The ones being used as instruments by Chevron to destroy them. And that, to me, is the most terrifying thing about this experience. I simply don’t know where to turn anymore.
Michael Moore [00:43:26] So what do we do? What do we do to help you?
Steven Donziger [00:43:29] Well, I think there’s a couple of things. I mean, one is you’ve got to learn about it and spread the word. We have a website called FreeDonziger.com where you can go and get articles and learn more and keep up with events. We post articles and stuff. You can also donate to our legal defense fund. It’s expensive to pay all these lawyers to protect me against this monster company. We have a lot of people donate small amounts. Whatever you can do, please do. You can find the donate button on our website again at FreeDonziger.com. And then we ask people to engage in actions. For example, one of the actions we’re asking people to do is to call Merrick Garland, the Attorney General, and demand that the DOJ take back this private Chevron prosecution and take it over as the government.
Steven Donziger [00:44:16] And at that point, dismiss the case, or if not, dismiss it, at least review it. But it is just wrong on every level for there to be a corporate prosecution of an activist in the United States or any rule of law country. So we’re asking people to pressure Merrick Garland to take over the case, and we’re also asking people to pressure their Congressperson to pressure Garland to review the case and to take it back. You know, we’re fortunate enough to have six Congresspersons led by Jim McGovern and Jamie Raskin and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Cori Bush, Rashida Tlaib and Jamaal Bowman. They signed a letter to the Attorney General last April, demanding he take over the case, and he ignored them. I don’t think that’s right. And you know, this also extends to Joe Biden. I mean, Joe Biden appointed Merrick Garland and Joe Biden, you know, to really walk the walk on the climate issue, you know, you cannot have human rights lawyers who are doing the frontline work to save the planet locked up in the United States of America.
Steven Donziger [00:45:22] So this implicates Joe Biden and implicates Kamala Harris and implicates our Congress and it implicates our government. And I need more people to speak out. And that obviously is going to come from pressure from citizens like the people listening to this podcast. And, you know, so the more you can do, the more it can help me. And you know, you can learn more about the actions at the website. Again, it’s FreeDonziger.com
Michael Moore [00:45:59] FreeDonziger.com, I will have a link here on whatever platform you’re listening to this podcast. It’ll be on our page here and there will be a link and you can go right to the site. I’ll also put a link, I’ll put Merrick Garland, the Attorney General’s phone number and email on here so that you can call and write him and demand the release of this true patriot who has stood not just for justice and for a better earth here in this country. So many years dedicated to the people of Ecuador who are not on anybody’s radar. And you gave all those years of your life for that and you won. You won it. Have they paid a dime of what they were ordered to pay Chevron?
Steven Donziger [00:46:48] Now they have not. The judgment’s been affirmed. And they have not paid a penny to the people of Ecuador, which is an outrage. And ultimately we believe we have lawyers, you know, fighting to enforce the judgment against their assets in other countries. And we believe they will be forced to pay.
Michael Moore [00:47:05] And you actually you’ve sort of said that you want Garland, you want the Department of Justice going like, Wow, you have dared them to prosecute you?
Steven Donziger [00:47:17] Look, I don’t want to be prosecuted, obviously, but if I’m going to be prosecuted, I want the DOJ to prosecute me, not Chevron. And I’m probably the only lawyer ever in the U.S. to basically be begging the Department of Justice to prosecute him or her. That’s my position. Please prosecute me. If you’re listening, Attorney General, you know, look at this case and please do not let Chevron prosecute me and lock me up like this. It’s just not right. It’s not consistent with our Constitution or our laws. So I’m asking you to prosecute me. And as part of that prosecution, use your discretion and hopefully you’ll see that these charges are baseless and the case should be dismissed. But you know, you got to intervene and prevent this private prosecution from continuing any further. And you also, I believe, need to comply with the United Nations Working Group decision and make sure that I’m released because my detention is a violation of international law.
Michael Moore [00:48:18] Oh man, I’m so sorry. You know, I pay my taxes and so I’m paying for your house incarceration.
Steven Donziger [00:48:27] Well, you know, I want to say this about money, if I may…
Michael Moore [00:48:32] Yeah.
Steven Donziger [00:48:33] The price I estimate for the prosecution of me by Chevron cost taxpayers $2 to $3 million dollars, at least. Just the fees for the private Chevron law firm, you know, they’re grifters. They were billing taxpayers to prosecute me as Chevron. In addition to all the staff time and the use of the courtroom. And this has gone on for two and a half years now, all the legal work, I mean, and this is a misdemeanor. Do you know how much money a defense lawyer who’s assigned by the court to represent a misdemeanor defendant gets paid? It’s a flat rate in New York. It’s a flat rate of $4,000. OK, I’m a misdemeanor defendant and they have spent millions of dollars on this because it’s a retaliation case and the taxpayers are subsidizing my prosecution and my detention. You know, not because it’s in the public interest, obviously, but to help Chevron extinguish the voice of an important lawyer or try to at least. I mean, obviously, I’m still talking and I will talk for as long as I’m out in my house, even though I’m detained. But this is taxpayer funded to an enormous degree, which is another aspect that I think is very offensive.
Michael Moore [00:49:46] Wow. Just to make the point again, we’re talking about a misdemeanor under house arrest for 800 days. A contempt of court citation, just essentially with the power the judges have just made up by this judge, who is a chief adviser to the Federalist Society. That’s the right-wing group that was advising Trump. That’s where we got our last three justices to the Supreme Court from, you know, I know to some of your listeners you think, Well, maybe this is just kind of a small case. It’s not the big stuff that we’re facing the Supreme Court, but my friends, if we let them get away with doing this to just one person, we’re all in trouble. We’re all under threat. And the fact that you had to on this podcast, some of you, many of you here for the first time, things like no jury trial allowed, the federal judge turned it over, not to a federal prosecutor because they wouldn’t prosecute Steven Donziger.
Michael Moore [00:50:51] So they got a private company, a private law firm to do this case. They’re private prosecutors. I’ve never heard of such a thing. I never heard of anybody under house arrest for 800 days, even if you had COVID, you wouldn’t be in bed for 800 days. I mean, I’m just serious, folks. This is madness. And Steven, I am sorry that you’ve had to go through this. I’m sorry I didn’t know about it sooner. How did we go 800 days and not know that? I know why we had to get rid of Trump, we had to stop a war. We had, you know, there’s a whole bunch of things going on. I know this. I know this, but this is when it happens, my friends. This is when it happens, when you lose your democracy, when you lose your freedoms, because it’s death by a thousand cuts. Who the hell is Steven Donziger, right? I mean, he’s not Hurricane Ida. We got real stuff we’re dealing with. And that’s how it happens. Bit by bit by bit. That person there, that person there, boom. People don’t talk about it. They don’t know about it. They, you know, has there been a story in The Times about this?
Steven Donziger [00:52:07] You know, the Times hasn’t covered this matter for seven years for the most part. They ran a teeny little story when I was convicted. But, you know, I’ve pitched them. I know a bunch of reporters there and I pitched a bunch of them over the last couple of years. I think this story, I mean, even if you don’t like me, you have to admit it’s pretty newsworthy when a Harvard law grad, you know, with my background, is stuck in his home for over two years. But you know and look, there’s journalists flying here thousands of miles away from places in Europe to interview me, and they’re down the street near where you live in their headquarters, and they won’t even come here.
Michael Moore [00:52:46] Many of them live in this neighborhood.
Steven Donziger [00:52:48] Yes, I mean, even some of them live in my building.
Michael Moore [00:52:52] This is madness. Yeah, I hope somebody’s listening to this. An American, not a foreign journalist, they’ve been covering it, but an American journalist. American show on cable news. Whatever. This is just crazy. I will do my part to raise hell about this. I’ll make my phone calls. Everybody listening to you make your phone calls, send your emails to the Attorney General. Help out the movement here to free Steven from his house arrest, but also from the persecution in general that I’m sure will continue with Chevron and easy for me to say. But please, nobody take away from today’s podcast the lesson that see what happens to you if you rock the boat? You fight City Hall, this is what happens to you. If that’s the lesson we learn from the case of Steven Donziger. Well, we’re over. That’s it. I refuse to be over.
Michael Moore [00:53:56] So my friends, do what you can do. I’ll do what I can do. And Steven, you hang in there, please. Thank you. This is a horrible trauma that you’ve had to go through. Sometimes I don’t know how people get through this. It makes what I’ve had to go through seem like small potatoes. So thank you for the work you’ve done over all these years to stand up for this planet, to stand up for the people that are suffering because of what these large corporations do, especially what they do in the Third World. It means a lot to me personally. I want you to know that it does to those people listening.
Steven Donziger [00:54:35] Yeah, if I could just say before we part here, I have loved and admired your work for so many years, and it’s truly an honor to share the story with you, in particular, and your audience that I know loves to follow you and loves your journalism and the way you expose the truth and the way you take on entrenched interests over your life. And it’s an inspiration to me. So to get those kind words from you means a lot – personally to me and my family. And I just want to finally say, you know, I don’t want people to hear my story and be demoralized. We must act, we must organize, and we must continue to build support. We have a lot of support, and I want to just end by saying, you know, this is happening to me because the people of Ecuador spoke truth to power. They want a historic court case and they were successful and continue to be successful. This is happening because of our success, not because of anything wrong that occurred. And I want to be very clear about that. When you are successful, you’re going to be subject to these kinds of attacks. I think this is wholly unjustified. But just remember it’s happening because of our success. So let’s continue to organize and push this out there and spread the word. And I thank you again for your time.
Michael Moore [00:55:52] Thank you, Steven, and thank you to all of you who’ve listened to this podcast today. We have work to do. So let’s do it. And you hang in there and help. I hope help is on the way here. I have a feeling that the thousands of people who listen to this are not people who are couch potatoes. We are active citizens in our democracy. And in fact, it’s almost redundant now to even say you’re an active citizen, because if we’re not active in a democracy, if you’re not active, the democracy ceases to exist. It’s only a democracy because the citizens are active and we can’t let this continue with you. And a God man just makes me wonder how many other Steven Donzigers there are in this country. I think we know the answer to that of people who have been abused by our justice system that oftentimes is not set up for justice. It’s set up to help those who are well-off and do not want things to change, and they can see the tide.
Michael Moore [00:56:55] They can see the rising tide that’s happening. They can see the younger generation not willing to put up with this any longer and to not go through another generation where we have this kind of disparity. It has harmed us as a people. It has harmed our environment and to put up with it a day longer is to acknowledge that it’s OK to let this all go away. Well, it’s not OK with me. So everybody listening – do your part. Go to these links, go to FreeDonziger.com and we’ll do our best to help Steven here. All right, my friends, that’s it for today. Thank you to our executive producer Basel Hamdan and our editor Nick Kwas and sound engineer Donald Borenstein, our researcher Harrison Malkin, and all others who assist me in doing this.
Michael Moore [00:57:50] Thanks to all of you paid members who tuned into the live Q&A here this week, that was a lot of fun. We’ll do another one next month. If you are already a member of my Substack where you get my column each week and this podcast emailed to you. Thank you for being a member. It’s free. And for those who want to donate to the cause here of what we’re trying to do, then we do this little Q&A every month and we have a movie night. And so if you want to join us, please do that. It’s a lot of fun.
Michael Moore [00:58:22] All right, everybody, man. This kind of knocked the wind out of me here. I am just in such a rage. That I hate it when I don’t know shit that’s going on. And I followed this case almost a decade ago. And wow, what a great day it was for the Ecuadorian people that Chevron, Texaco was brought down by this attorney and the fact that he would have to pay for this through this kind of persecution these years later. I guess they have a long memory. Well, so do we. So let’s all do our best to help out, Steven Donziger. Have a good day and a good evening, my friends. And I will send you my Substack if you’re signed up for it on Sunday, and we’ll be back next week here on Rumble with Michael Moore. And I still am Michael Moore. Over now.