Montgomery Blair Sibley says a timer controls release of a link to client records 'relevant' to presidential race.
By Steven Nelson
March 31, 2016,
The colorful litigator who represented the late “D.C. madam” Deborah Palfrey and threatened this week to release call logs of his former client that he says are “very relevant” to the 2016 presidential election tells U.S. News those records already are digitized and posted online.
Montgomery Blair Sibley says the records will become public if he fails to reset a 72-hour countdown clock, which could cut short his soft two-week ultimatum for federal courts to consider lifting a 2007 gag order that covers the records, lest he deem that order void.
The countdown clock is a safeguard, Sibley says, that ensures that if he disappears the records will be published. Inevitable release, he says, may also disincentivize violent acts against him to prevent their disclosure.
The records are stored on four servers around the world, Sibley says, and dozens of reporters will receive a website link if the clock is not reset. He says he loaded the information online in January, when he decided to publicly claim the records are relevant to the presidential race.
An attorney for the late Deborah Palfrey, who operated an escort service popular among Washington's upper class, says the presidential race could change if he discloses client information.
“There’s a link right now, that if you had, you would have access to the records,” Sibley says about the website. “If I die, disappear, whatever, they will be out.”
A similar tactic was embraced by WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in 2010 with release of an encrypted “insurance” file that could be unlocked with a password if the besieged transparency advocate chose to distribute it.
“If you’re asking if I’m partnering with WikiLeaks, the answer is I’m not answering that,” Sibley says without any prodding about the secrets-spilling site.
Sibley says his website hosts PDFs of Palfrey call logs that contain about 5,000 phone numbers, along with downloadable spreadsheets that contain the names and addresses of 815 Verizon Wireless customers from those logs, which he acquired with a subpoena ahead of Palfrey’s trial.
Sibley represented Palfrey after her 2006 arrest for running an escort service popular among Washington’s upper class. In 2007, he released call logs containing about 10,000 phone numbers, which resulted in the outing of prominent political leaders including Sen. David Vitter, R-La. He says he held back 5,000 numbers for leverage at trial – but Palfrey fired him before she was found guilty in April 2008 of money laundering and other crimes.
Two weeks after her conviction, Palfrey was found in her mother’s shed with a nylon rope around her neck, dead from apparent suicide.
A major hurdle for Sibley’s bid to modify the 2007 court order protecting the records is that Palfrey fired him.
Then-U.S. District Judge Richard Roberts in January instructed a clerk not to accept Sibley’s motion requesting reconsideration of the restraining order, writing: “Why Sibley would have possession of subpoenaed records in a case from which he has been terminated and why he would not instead have turned all copies of them over to the defendant’s continuing counsel of record is not set forth in the motion.“
Sibley says Roberts – who resigned earlier this month on the day he was sued for alleged sexual assault – wrongly assumed he had no right to the records. He says he was retained for Palfrey’s appeal, was her mother’s attorney at the time of Palfrey’s death and that he worked for a while on a civil lawsuit.
He also says he delivered original copies of all records to attorney Preston Burton, who represented Palfrey at trial and, Sibley says, later replaced him on the civil lawsuit.
Thus far, Sibley has not heard back from the D.C. Circuit federal appeals court or from the Supreme Court, which he asked on Monday to force the District Court to accept his motion about the records. He said Monday he would wait two weeks for courts to act, but now says the situation is so fluid the time frame may change.
Burton did not respond to an email seeking comment on the records. Sibley says he currently has no physical copies.
Matthew Green, a computer science professor at Johns Hopkins University, says it’s unclear to him how secure Sibley's unadvertised website is from prying eyes.
“Wow, that sounds a little crazy,” Green says in an email. “I’m not sure if there are any services that do this reliably – you would have to cobble something together. Is the information safe sitting on four servers? I guess it depends on which four servers. Presumably Google is safer than some random server sitting in a closet somewhere. But it doesn’t sound very safe to me.”
Green says if Sibley is partnering with WikiLeaks, there would be a different set of considerations.
Gov. Robert Bentley is denying that he is having an affair with a senior staffer, but Alabama politics has been roiled by a detailed allegation he is.
“Wikileaks does have some security expertise, so it’s probably more secure against random hackers,” he says. “On the other hand, Wikileaks has some fairly sophisticated adversaries, including nation states – so their server infrastructure has a much bigger target on it. But the real question is: if Wikileaks has the data, can you trust Wikileaks not to do anything with it?”
Sibley has refused to provide any clues about what information relevant to the presidential election he claims to have. He says he’s not concerned that some citizens are incorrectly guessing about one of the five remaining candidates in the Democratic and Republican primaries.
Sibley says he currently is not licensed to practice law – the result of a 2008 suspension in Florida for filing “vexatious and meritless” lawsuits against judges and for a child support payment dispute, for which he faced reciprocal discipline in D.C. – and has no plans to seek readmission to the D.C. Bar.
“I have no desire to be part of a profession I consider to be profoundly corrupt to its core," he says. “I’m hacking at the roots of tyranny, not its branches.”
Steven Nelson is a reporter at U.S. News & World Report. You can follow him on Twitter or reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.