Who is behind this mysterious character?
As I became more engaged in the investigations into the Jan. 6 attack and Donald Trump in general, one account kept popping up on Twitter: @emptywheel. She (I guessed they were female due to the profile picture of a young girl) seemed to be very knowledgeable about courts and the law, often posting links to official court/legal documents along with her “tweets”.
Fortunately, it did not take too much online research for me to discover that “emptywheel” was no average Twitter user; rather, the account belongs to Marcy Wheeler, a trailblazing independent journalist who works out of Michigan.
A good sample of Wheeler's work can be found through her blog posts, such as this segment of the introduction from How a Trump Prosecution for Jan 6 Would Work:
Almost none of these TV lawyers engage with how DOJ is applying obstruction as the cornerstone of its January 6 prosecutions. For example, Toobin considers whether Trump obstructed justice, but he only analyzes whether, when, “Trump encouraged the crowd to march to Capitol Hill but he did not explicitly encourage violence,” Trump obstructed the vote certification. Of around 200 January 6 defendants charged with obstruction, I can think of few if any against whom obstruction has been charged based solely on their actions on the day of the riot, and Trump is not going to be the exception to that rule. As with other January 6 defendants, DOJ would rely on Trump’s words and actions leading up to the event to prove his intent. In this post, I want to lay out how a DOJ prosecution of Trump for January 6 would work. I’m not doing this because I’m sure DOJ will prosecute. I’m doing it to make the commentary on the question less insufferably stupid than it currently is.
The Twitter account @FrankFigliuzzi1 that Wheeler references above belongs to retired FBI Assistant Director Frank Figliuzzi, who now works as a National Security Advisor for NBC and frequently speculates about Jan 6 on social media.
Kyle Cheney @kyledcheneyINBOX: Biden has signed a significant piece of legislation related to Jan. 6 that passed the House and Senate unanimously with little fanfare. It empowers the Capitol Police chief to request emergency National Guard assistance without consulting others. https://t.co/hdrNkFpIUJ https://t.co/7jqn1O6kLH
Educated at Amherst College and The University of Michigan (she has a PhD in Comparative Literature), Wheeler has made contributions to outlets such as The Guardian, Daily Kos, The Huntington Post, and Democracy Now! Aside from her blogging (emptywheel.net) and popular Twitter account (250k followers), Wheeler is best known for her reporting on the trial of I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby. She was one of the few press accredited bloggers allowed in the courtroom, and her eye witness account served as a source of reliable information about the trial for readers. Wheeler decided to write a book (her one and only) about the affair, Anatomy of Deceit: How the Bush Administration used the Media to Sell the Iraq War and Out a Spy (2007).
The topics Wheeler is most familiar with are national security and civil liberties, as pointed out in a 2013 profile of her in Newsweek, titled The Woman who Knows the NSA's Secrets:
You’ve probably never heard of Wheeler, a Michigan blogger who plies her trade far away from the closed world of Washington D.C., but her work enables journalists, lawyers, advocates and experts to unmask the government’s secret spying apparatus…Experts on domestic surveillance admire Wheelers ability to connect current revelations to past mysteries.
So when Wheeler looks at a document dump from the NSA, she’s reading them in a different way to lawyers and journalists, and that deeper understanding of what a bureaucratic document really means helps her find or infer information that others miss…Wheeler’s work stands out because she works independently and is not beholden to an employer or constrained by Capital Hill etiquette…Wheeler’s maverick status is more of an asset rather than a liability, allowing her to make educated guesses and put them in the public domain, the kind of speculation and research that is vital to civil liberties groups but something a staff reporter couldn’t do without risking the credibility of their newspaper.
Aggregating information from a variety of sources and reporting such as Wheeler often does is known as “meta journalism” (or curational journalism specifically), and is masterfully done by attorney/author Seth Abramson, another popular “independent journalist” who frequently does analysis of Trump investigations on Twitter (@SethAbramson) and on his blog, Proof.
Unsurprisingly, Abramson and Wheeler have utilized one another:
For a comprehensive critique of Abramson and his approach, see here, although he claims to have refuted the article. Interestingly, the same forum, Columbia Journalism Review (CJR) wrote a piece/interview praising Wheeler.
As mentioned earlier, Wheeler's focus lately seems to be the Jan. 6 investigation, in particular the court cases of people (such as members of the Proud Boys militia) being charged with various related crimes.
emptywheel @emptywheelIn this (long) interview, I laid out a lot of details about the DOJ Jan 6 investigation that most people don't understand. https://t.co/m2JxC7YkRv
As can be seen from the above “tweet”, she commonly combines official legal/court documents with her own explanation/analysis, differentiating herself from others on Twitter who may just casually post news updates about the insurrection or other events.