DOJ To Reporter: We Can Prove You're Wrong, But We Want To Embarrass You, So We'll Wait
from the that's-not-how-it-works dept
Over at Cryptome today there’s an absolutely incredible exchange between the Justice Department’s Brian Fallon (from the Office of Public Affairs — basically a PR guy) and Brad Heath, an investigative reporter from USA Today. Heath had sent the DOJ a FOIA request to the DOJ’s Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) asking basically whether or not the OPR had been involved in any investigation concerning the recently declassified FISA Court order, about how the NSA had misled the FISA court and abused its capabilities repeatedly. It certainly seems reasonable to try to find out if the DOJ then investigated those abuses and the NSA’s misrepresentations to the FISA court.
The DOJ claimed that there were no responsive documents — which even by itself is quite incredible. Heath appears to have then followed up with Fallon at the DOJ to seek comments. Fallon’s response by itself is stunning:
I have an answer from OPR, and a FISC judge. I am not providing it to you because all you will do is seek to write around it because you are biased in favor of the idea that an inquiry should have been launched. So I will save what I have for another outlet after you publish.
Basically, this is the DOJ giving the middle finger to Heath, telling him that they have answers to his questions, but won’t give them to him in order to purposely try to make him look bad by giving those quotes to someone else. Heath, quite reasonably, responded that he’s been perfectly patient in waiting for an answer, but if none is forthcoming, he’ll write the story as he has it (which, from the FOIA request, suggests that the DOJ did absolutely nothing about the NSA’s abuses and misrepresentations to the FISC).
Fallon responds that he’s “done negotiating” and claims that he “will work with someone else afterwards explaining why what you reported is off base.” So, not only is the DOJ not answering the reporter, it’s telling the reporter that the reporter has incorrect information but the DOJ refuses to correct the reporter in order to make the reporter look bad. Heath points out that he’s not “negotiating” he’s just asking for answers to basic questions. And then the real issue comes out in the DOJ’s reply:
You are not actually open-minded to the idea of not writing the story. You are running it regardless. I have information that undercuts your premise, and would provide it if I thought you were able to be convinced that your story is off base. Instead, I think that to provide it to you would just allow you to cover your bases, and factor it into a story you still plan to write. So I prefer to hold onto the information and use it after the fact, with a different outlet that is more objective about whether an OPR inquiry was appropriate
Yeah. The DOJ is saying that it has answers to a reporter’s questions, which it knows adds to the public debate about the DOJ’s response to the NSA’s activities, but because it’s trying to stifle the report, it won’t share the info with him. This is incredible. It’s a clear move by the DOJ to try to silence the press with an effective threat: “if you agree not to publish your article, then we’ll explain why we did what we did. If you do publish your article, we’ll make you look foolish.”
This is incredibly childish and unprofessional behavior by Fallon and the DOJ. Remember how this is supposed to be “the most transparent administration in history”? Apparently the DOJ thinks that only means “we’ll be transparent if you only agree to write nice stuff about us.” That’s not how it works.
Heath points out that Fallon is wrong — if Heath just wanted to publish the story he would have done so already, without waiting for a comment from the DOJ. And then he points out the obvious:
You can’t seriously ask me not to publish something on the basis of information you won’t share
Either way, this seems to highlight (once again) how the federal government, and especially the DOJ, views journalists these days — especially investigative journalists. It will do anything possible to intimidate them into not publishing stories that might embarrass the administration. That’s not transparency, it’s thuggery and intimidation.