Sometimes you can tell who the Democrats are most afraid of facing in the general election by who they choose to attack during the primary. Today, Republican candidate Tom Cotton earned that honor as several liberal blogs attacked him for an email he wrote in 2006 while fighting in Iraq.

At the time, the New York Times had published information detailing how the United States was using a financial monitoring program to track terrorists.  Cotton wrote the NYT a letter detailing how their decision to publish this information put his life and the lives of those he was fighting with in danger.

I spoke with Cotton who said that at the time the letter was written he was in the 101st Airborne Division outside of Baghdad and had just come back from a 96-hour long range patrol. During his 18 hours of down time, he read the NYT coverage and fired off the email copying a few friends of his.  After coming back from his next 96-hour patrol, he learned the email had gone viral on numerous blogs.

The criticism from the left is aimed at the portion of the email where Cotton says that he hopes the NYT reporters would be prosecuted for what he believed was espionage.  To put this is context, Cotton’s position was the same one advocated at the time by the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee Rep. Peter King (R-New York.)

“I have the deepest respect for the Constitution and the First Amendment,” said Cotton. “But no one is protected from disclosing classified national security information where lives are at stake.”

Cotton pointed to federal laws prohibiting the disclosure of this information and said that if anyone has a First Amendment issue with these laws that would be an issue for the courts.

This is not the first time Cotton has been attacked by the left for his past writings.  In September, the Democratic Party of Arkansas put out a press release attacking Cotton for a paper he wrote in 1998 for his college newspaper.

“Somebody told me once, ‘You don’t take fire unless you are close to the target’,” said Cotton in response to this attacks. “Some on the left must think that I have the best chance to win in the general election. I like to think they are correct.”

I will let you read the email below for yourself and decide how you think this will play with south Arkansas’ Fourth Congressional District voters.

Dear Messrs. Keller, Lichtblau & Risen:

Congratulations on disclosing our government’s highly classified anti-terrorist-financing program (June 23). I apologize for not writing sooner. But I am a lieutenant in the United States Army and I spent the last four days patrolling one of the more dangerous areas in Iraq. (Alas, operational security and common sense prevent me from even revealing this unclassified location in a private medium like email.)

Unfortunately, as I supervised my soldiers late one night, I heard a booming explosion several miles away. I learned a few hours later that a powerful roadside bomb killed one soldier and severely injured another from my 130-man company. I deeply hope that we can find and kill or capture the terrorists responsible for that bomb. But, of course, these terrorists do not spring from the soil like Plato’s guardians. No, they require financing to obtain mortars and artillery shells, priming explosives, wiring and circuitry, not to mention for training and payments to locals willing to emplace bombs in exchange for a few months’ salary. As your story states, the program was legal, briefed to Congress, supported in the government and financial industry, and very successful.

Not anymore. You may think you have done a public service, but you have gravely endangered the lives of my soldiers and all other soldiers and innocent Iraqis here. Next time I hear that familiar explosion — or next time I feel it — I will wonder whether we could have stopped that bomb had you not instructed terrorists how to evade our financial surveillance.

And, by the way, having graduated from Harvard Law and practiced with a federal appellate judge and two Washington law firms before becoming an infantry officer, I am well-versed in the espionage laws relevant to this story and others — laws you have plainly violated. I hope that my colleagues at the Department of Justice match the courage of my soldiers here and prosecute you and your newspaper to the fullest extent of the law. By the time we return home, maybe you will be in your rightful place: not at the Pulitzer announcements, but behind bars.

Very truly yours,

Tom Cotton

Baghdad, Iraq

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Jason Tolbert is the moderator for his opinion blog, The Tolbert Report. He can be reached by e-mail at Jason@TolbertReport.com. Follow him on Twitter: @TolbertReport.

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