Actor Sean Penn says he has no regrets about his clandestine visit to interview Mexican drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman for Rolling Stone.
In a brief email exchange with The Associated Press, Penn was asked about images published in Mexican news media Monday that appeared to show officials watching him and actress Kate Del Castillo ahead of their October visit with Guzman.
“I’ve got nothin’ to hide,” he wrote.
Guzman was captured last Friday, more than three months after Penn’s Oct. 2 meeting with him in central Mexico and six months after escaping from prison.
Penn did not respond directly to questions on whether it was appropriate for him to submit his story to Guzman for approval in advance of publication, or whether he took adequate information and operational security measures to protect his source.
Penn has been under fire from some journalists on both sides of the border who felt the actor was too soft on Guzman’s violent history as a drug trafficker.
“To describe #chapo #SeanPenn mtg as an interview is an epic insult to journalists who died in name of truth,” tweeted one Mexican journalist, Alfredo Corchado .
The Washington Post’s Marty Baron tweeted out a story describing the murders of Mexican journalists who were killed covering the country’s drug cartels.
“Good moment to remember what happens to real journalists who cover Mexican drug traffickers,” Baron tweeted.
But did Sean Penn do anything legally wrong in participating in a clandestine meeting with a wanted fugitive? “CBS This Morning” anchor Charlie Rose posed that question to legal analyst Rikki Klieman.
“Sean Penn did not do anything that would make him vulnerable to legal action,” said Klieman. “We may not like it, we may not like the ethics of it.”
“The truth is any reporter, any journalist, would have wanted this interview,” said Klieman, noting that a murky area would be if someone gave material aid, refuge or anything “that continued his lack of apprehension.”
Ironically, the interview in October may have lead to Guzman’s arrest. Mexican authorities say the secret interview with Penn in part led to El Chapo’s capture on Friday. Penn met with the fugitive cartel leader early this past fall on a mountaintop in Mexico. He later submitted questions to him via text.
CBS News senior investigative producer Pat Milton reports that a U.S. law enforcement source said that the trail to El Chapo had gone cold when Penn’s contact with the powerful drug lord unwittingly provided a trove of leads which ultimately led to the legendary fugitive’s capture by Mexican authorities.
Mexico has begun the process of extraditing Guzman to the United States after the famed fugitive was recaptured.
That process will probably take “one year or longer,” the head of Mexico’s extradition office, Manuel Merino, told Radio Formula on Monday. He said the process had lasted as long as six years, in one case because of legal challenges.