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Department of Justice Civil Rights Division senior trial attorney Rachel Hranitzky told a local Louisiana reporter that he could not quote statements she made at a public hearing regarding the the New Iberia Fire Department. Even worse, according to the local reporter, Hranitzky "grew belligerent and threatening" and threatened to eject the reporter from the PUBLIC meeting if he did not follow her orders:  

“[The Department of Justice] can call your editors and publisher at the paper, and trust me, you don’t want to get on the Department of Justice’s bad side,” Hranitzky reportedly said.
Hranitzky cited some unknown and previously unheard of Justice Department internal "rule" that prevented attorneys from being quoted even when they made public statements. Think about implications of a rule prohibiting the press from reporting on what a Justice Department attorney says during his or her official duties in public. It is bad enough that the Fourth Estate kowtows to the Executive branch by previewing national security stories and too often "softens" stories in response to Executive branch fears. Now a Justice Department attorney says reporters can't even publish public statements. Lucy Dalglish of the Reporter's Committee for Freedom of the Press is rightfully concerned about the First Amendment implications.
“We are gravely concerned over any internal practice or policy of preventing journalists from recording or quoting statements made by DOJ officials,” Dalglish wrote in a letter to the Justice Department about the incident.  “Restricting the public’s right to report on federal officials’ actions at public meetings clearly conflicts with the mandates of the First Amendment and state open government laws.”

The Reporter's Committee has not received a response to their inquiry:

“I think the reason we haven’t heard back from them yet is because they know it’s bogus,” says Dalglish.  “My hunch is that they’re still trying to figure out what happened.”
I share Dalglish's skepticism. Aside from the fact that such a Justice Department rule would fly in the face of the First Amendment and that no one has ever heard of such a rule, the Justice Department has plenty of internal rules that it regularly flouts. For example, the Justice Department's internal guidelines mandate that the Justice Department only subpoena reporters when absolutely necessary, but that didn't stop the Justice Department from thrice subpoenaing New York Times reporter Jim Risen, despite the fact that the government already suspected (and charged under the Espionage Act) Jeffery Sterling with being Risen's source.

As outrageous as Hranitzky's assertions sound, they speak a larger, dangerous, and chilling "only approved leaks" culture at the Justice Department under the Obama administration.

[the local reporter] said that after the meeting Hranitzky told him she had been quoted in the past and gotten in trouble with the department.[Hranitzky] said that there are ’special rules’ by which attorneys are quoted,” [the local reporter] said in an interview with Main Justice.  “Afterwards she told me the Department of Justice keeps a short leash on how their attorneys are quoted and she could get in big trouble if she were quoted in a newspaper.”
(She may have been talking about this).

Between the recent "leak hysteria" sweeping Washington and the Obama administration's war on whistleblowers, Hranitzky's frantic response to the possibility of a reporter quoting her public statements demonstrates just how scared line attorneys at the Justice Department -- and probably countless other federal workers -- are about being quoted in the press. Instead of thinking about her worthwhile work -- in this case, preventing discriminatory hiring practices -- Hranitzky appeared more worried about the professional consequences for her if the press published her public statements.

I've long warned that the Obama administration's crackdown whistleblowers has an immeasurably large chilling effect on potential whistleblowers and is a back door way of going after journalists and creating an Official Secrets Act. This is another dangerous result of the Obama administration's "only approved leaks" culture: instead of doing their jobs, employees are worried about keeping their jobs if they are too transparent.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Not just justice department but Democ Senator (14+ / 0-)

    MONDAY, JUL 2, 2012 09:19 AM EDT
    Dianne Feinstein targets press freedom:
    The California Democrat, long a prime defender of the Surveillance State, renews her assault on the First Amendment

    http://www.salon.com/...

    The main topic of this article by Glenn Greenwald is the effort to prosecute Julian Assange.

    As EFF’s Trevor Timm noted, there is no sense in which Feinstein’s denunciation applies to WikiLeaks but not to The New York Times (and, for that matter, senior Obama officials). Indeed, unlike WikiLeaks, which has never done so, The New York Times has repeatedly published Top Secret information. That’s why the prosecution that Feinstein demands for WikiLeaks would be the gravest threat to press freedom and basic transparency in decades. Feinstein’s decades-long record in the Senate strongly suggest that she would perceive these severe threats to press freedom as a benefit rather than drawback to her prosecution designs.
  •  Reminds me about a disclaimer (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Horace Boothroyd III, gerrilea

    included on the front page of a Department of Energy environmental impact statement for a proposed laser plutonium isotope separation plant in Idaho in the 80s.

    It was one of those boilerplate things that says in effect "don't rely on this document as being truthful or correct in any way" that is usually reserved for routine research papers presented at conferences, etc.

    In that case it was determined to be a case of inept lawyer damage and was removed after being reported on in the local press.

    I suppose its reporting would be combatted these days instead?

    Moderation in most things.

    by billmosby on Tue Jul 10, 2012 at 06:29:52 AM PDT

  •  It's not "OK" (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    BradyB

    ..even when the people doing it are on "our side."

    Stifling the press in searching for, and reporting circumstances that make government officials uncomfortable is in opposition to the reason we have a "free press" to begin with.

    Is it possible that Ms. Hranitzky was flustered by the line of questioning and simply "making shit up" regarding her "New Rule?"

    I want a living planet, not just a living room.

    by Anthony Page aka SecondComing on Tue Jul 10, 2012 at 07:50:12 AM PDT

  •  Two words: (0+ / 0-)

    Shirley Sherrod.

    OK.  a couple more.

    By and large lawyers in DC (political and government types) are, as you know, notoriously prudent, especially when the perceive even the slightest possibility of a threat to their careers.

    Don't think for a second that Sherrod's tribulations went unnoticed.

    I don't know this lawyer or what her career arc has been, but it wouldn't surprise me if, as you say, she's an only slightly experienced "line attorney" that is hypersensitive to anything that may impact her reputation.  Everything is forever in this digital age.  One misplaced word, and Drudge will make you famous.

    'til now, I've been uniformly supportive of your work, Jesselyn.  But here, I think you'd be better off discussing the context these public servants find themselves trying to navigate.

    •  I think you miss the point (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      PhilK, aliasalias

      The current environment of secrecy, press harassment, and arbitrary unpublished internal directives creates the conditions where a low level DOJ lawyer could get away with threatening a reporter with this kind of bullshit to protect herself.

    •  The problem is the culture at DOJ (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Earth Bear, PhilK, aliasalias

      which condones some "leaks" but not others in such an arbitrary - and often retaliatory way - that employees must preoccupy their time with whether or not they will be quoted publicly, and not their important legal work.

      My book, TRAITOR: THE WHISTLEBLOWER & THE "AMERICAN TALIBAN," is Amazon's #1 Best Seller in Human Rights Books for February 2012.

      by Jesselyn Radack on Tue Jul 10, 2012 at 08:40:33 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  but that bootstraps (0+ / 0-)

        an irrelevancy into this set of facts.

        under no reasonable construction of the events cited could anyone possibly suggest that this lawyer would be persecuted for "leaking".  I mean, she was talking about preventing discrimination in hiring.   Sound familiar?  Kinda like Shirley Sherrod talking about racial bias at the USDA, right?

        I mean, look...  this woman was sent to a public hearing to share the views of the DOJ, maybe to review some case studies, and provide advice regarding how to develop and maintain sound practices that will not run afoul of the law, right?  She probably had prepared remarks that were pre-approved, right?  Where would a concern over a leak come from?  (Unless she was speaking out of turn about grand jury testimony or other live investigations...  and in that case, she should be disciplined.)

        I agree with you that this attorney is probably spending too much time fretting over the possibility of being quoted, but I think it is highly unlikely that some fear of arbitrary internal witchhunts over a public quote compelled this attorney to bully the reporter.  (This isn't to say that the pressures you speak of don't exist.  I'm just saying that, to me, they don't seem relevant here.)

        That said, I'm sure part of what drives the government's political obsession with secrecy are Shirley Sherrod concerns.  They don't want to have Eric Holder assuming the position of Tom Vilsack every time Drudge decides to promote a deceptive video.  Of course, the larger reason for the obsession with secrecy is a rogue government's disregard for the law, and the drive to avoid accountability for failures...  but if I were developing a powerpoint illustrating the vectors contributing to the relatively recent snowballing of government secrecy, I'd surely include a small arrow to represent the acidic and predatory propagandistic/tabloid media environment.

  •  F*** these people. Lord Acton is proved (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    PhilK, aliasalias, BradyB

    right yet again.  The arrogance of the essentially do-nothing Holder DoJ is an embarrassment.  Torture?  ok.  Murder?  ok.  Colossal bank fraud?  ok.  Whistleblowing?  go to jail.  Medical marijuana?  go to jail.

    I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just; that his justice cannot sleep forever. ~Thomas Jefferson

    by bobdevo on Tue Jul 10, 2012 at 08:42:16 AM PDT

  •  doj lawyer (0+ / 0-)

    she was right to tell these rednecks to shut up. no doubt these mouth breathers want to rile up the populace about blacks taking over the county. its too bad that the DOJ just cant take over ,close down the local government, shut  the redneck paper & run things right

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