According to Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa, yes. Grassley expressed concerns the Department of Justice is censoring reporters and trying to control how they quote DOJ attorneys during public meetings yesterday during a Senate Judiciary Committee Executive Session.
Last month, a Justice Department attorney from the Civil Rights Division, attended a public meeting in Louisiana. She reportedly told a reporter who was present, “You can quote those who speak, but you can’t quote me.”
It has been reported that the reporter asked her to cite legal authority that would support her claim that he couldn’t quote a Justice Department attorney at a public meeting. The attorney said that the Justice Department has special rules on how its attorneys can be quoted. She did not back up that statement.
Supposedly, it’s Justice Department policy that the press would have fewer rights than the general public to quote what a government representative said. This undercuts the claim that “[t]his Administration has been the most transparent administration ever.”
There are reports that the Justice Department attorney then tried to kick the reporter out of the meeting for questioning her.
As if this wasn’t enough, she totally abused her power, according to press reports. She told the reporter that she could have the Justice Department call the newspaper’s publishers or editors, saying, “you don’t want to get on the Department of Justice’s bad side.”
That statement represents a raw abuse of power. Threatening to use the power to bring a criminal case or civil action against an entity because it had the audacity to insist that the Department of Justice obey the First Amendment is outrageous.
The newspaper has protested to the Justice Department and hasn’t to my knowledge received any response. The Department’s public comment on the incident doesn’t deny that any of the reported statements were made.
If the Department has a policy of preventing the press from quoting the statements of its attorneys at public meetings, that policy should be reversed immediately. And whether it has a policy or not, the attorney who claimed that such a policy existed, tried to expel a reporter from a public meeting for quoting her, and threatened the reporter for “get[ting] on the Department of Justice’s bad side,” should be appropriately disciplined.
If they aren't censoring reporters, they sure aren't treating them well, not to mention their refusal to respond properly to Freedom of Information Act requests or comment on controversial topics.