Roll Call has the story; I’ll excerpt it below. Be warned, however… This story has a lot of threads, and I’m not sure if I’m the best person to tell it because it is so personal.
Here’s your background, from Roll Call:
A Capitol Police crackdown turned physical Thursday afternoon, when officers clashed with reporters attempting to speak with senators in a location known as key territory for lawmakers and media to mix: the Senate basement.
Capitol Police officers physically shoved reporters away from senators heading to vote on the spending package, even when lawmakers were willingly engaging with the press.
One of the reporters who said he was physically handled by Capitol Police was veteran Capitol Hill reporter Matt Laslo. He provided an audio recording of the incident to Roll Call.
“I am a pregnant woman and you just pushed me” one reporter is heard saying to a Capitol Police officer on the recording. Others repeatedly asked why they were not being permitted to ask senators questions and why officers were putting their hands on them.
NPR’s Kelsey Snell and NBC’s Leigh Ann Caldwell were also pushed by Capitol Police officers during the altercation. McLeod was standing right behind Caldwell, who was walking with Capito when he said an officer “slammed into her.”
‘It was insane’
“It was insane, people were getting shoved into walls,” McLeod said. “It was unsustainable. It was violent.”
“This was first time any officer put their hands on me or my co-workers in front of me, so it was really disheartening,” said Laslo, who has been covering Capitol Hill for 12 years.
Even some senators appeared to be taken aback.
“Feinstein was doing an interview with one reporter, and she just stopped and her jaw just dropped,” Laslo said. “She was confused. She was just unable to keep doing an interview that she wanted to do because the officers were creating such a mess.”
Later in the article, we’re clued into why this happened:
A handful of reporters picked up on clues that might offer some insight into the heightened security posture. More than one reporter overheard Capitol Police officers in the basement talking on the phone about a political tracker who has caused problems in the past, including allegedly assaulting Interior Department senior adviser and spokeswoman Heather Swift in the Longworth House Office Building.
The individual is known to hang out in the basement of the Russell Senate Office Building and approach senators with questions, but he is not a member of the press. He is usually equipped with a hand-held GoPro camera.
The Russell Building is a public space, but the individual often stands among members of the press, leading to confusion about his status.
As it happens, I am the “political tracker” (reporters HATE calling me a reporter, even though I, like them, ask questions of powerful people and report newsworthy results widely). As for the “including allegedly assaulting Interior Department senior adviser and spokeswoman Heather Swift”, I’ve written about that here, and I really, Really, REALLY urge you to read that piece. Because it informs much of the rest of this diary.
So anyway, I didn’t experience any of the harassment or abuse the rest of the Hill reporters were subjected to… So, why did it happen?
Well, I WAS on the Hill Thursday. And I WAS on the Senate side. But I was outside, asking Senators questions as they left their vote on the border compromise.
Here’s some of my work from that day:
Of course, these Democrats I spoke with took my questions in stride. They appreciate all facets of the 1st Amendment, and didn’ t really care if I was exercising my right to free speech, freedom of the press, or the right to petition my government. They answered the questions I had for them, even if they didn’ t like them (I don’ t think Senator Duckworth was happy with the implication of my question, for example).
So what happened? Well, if you haven’t figured it out from the text of my tweets, there is one (actually there are several) Senator that thinks the 1st Amendment is optional. Here’s what I asked Senator John Kennedy:
Here’ s the truth: I don’ t think Senator Kennedy had any problem with the question I asked. His problem was with the person asking the question. And there’ s a history…
Last year I was employed by American Bridge. My job was to ask Republican politicians “accountability questions” — defined as questions that are difficult or unwanted. here’s an example of my work:
When Republicans learned American Bridge had sent a reporter to the Hill to hold them accountable on a daily basis, they circled the wagons. I was told that the Committees (presumably the House and Senate electoral committees) had struck a truce and agreed not to send operatives to the Hill to do this kind of work. Well… I wasn’t part of that agreement, but that did little to assuage the concerns of Republicans that couldn’t shake my dogged pursuit and questioning.
Soon, I was exactly what I wanted to be… “The most hated man on the Hill,” at least among Republicans.
Many of these Republicans simply stopped answering my questions. But that didn’ t mean I stopped asking:
This was not an unusual case. Several other Republican Senators and Representatives appealed for help from police, merely because I was asking them questions.
Sometimes police would detain me. They’d ask for my identification and I’d be forced to stand and wait for them to run a check on me. Typically this would take 10-15 minutes. It probably happened two or three times a week.
Other times, the elected officials weren’t so lucky. I remember feeling particularly grateful to one cop who straight-up told Senator Rand Paul (that noted Constitutional libertarian) that I had a First Amendment right to question him.
Anyway, one of the Senators that came to despise my questioning of him was Senator John Kennedy. He’s a favorite among Hill reporters because he’ll always stop to discuss the issues of the day. The problem is that he has a notable talent for double-speak, deflection and obfuscation. Most media, enthralled with the access and attention he gives them, don’t notice.
But it was never my job to cultivate relationships with the powerful. Nor was it my job to write down every utterance of a lying Republican.
Nah. Nope. No way.
Instead, it was my job to hold Republicans accountable.
So when John Kennedy or Ben Sasse or Rand Paul or Tom Cotton or Jeff Flake or Jodi Ernst or Susan Collins or Richard Burr or Tom Tillis or Todd Young or Cory Gardner were duplicitous, prevaricating hypocrites, I didn’t let them off the hook. I held them accountable.
Most of them stopped talking to me or found other ways to ignore my questions.
John Kennedy’s preferred way of dealing with me was to call the police.
And that’s what he did last Thursday after I asked him what his basis was for saying Andrew McCabe was a political hack and if he thought McCabe was trying to help Hillary Clinton.
Seriously, for that, he called the police.
I don’t know if he was aware, but he should have been, that since the Kavanaugh hearing and the famous video of the woman detaining Jeff Flake, the police have been much more protective of Senators.
So when Kennedy called the police on Thursday, the police decided to go gestapo on the press. and they roughed a few of them up, including a pregnant woman.
And now, instead of standing in solidarity with me defending the 1st Amendment, they are blaming me for creating these conditions.
All I’ve ever done is ask Republicans questions.
But because I broke the norms by really holding Republicans to account, the entire system — elected officials, the rest of the press, and the police — turned against me.
You know, in the story… In the story when the boy points his finger and laughs at the naked emperor, the rest of the crowd join in the laughter.
In real life, it turns out that it’s fucking lonely when you call out the nakedness of our elected leaders.