A Department of Justice official's testy email exchange with a USA Today reporter has received a lot of criticism after it was posted online on Thursday.
The correspondence begins in medias res, with investigative reporter Brad Heath pressing DOJ spokesperson Brian Fallon for information about a story he wrote on the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. Heath had filled out a Freedom of Information Act request for a piece on why the Department of Justice didn't look into judges' concerns about the scope of NSA power.
Fallon fired back that he wouldn't provide the information he was referring to because he believed Heath was biased and wouldn't use the information fairly. Fallon had already provided comments about the inquiry.
"You are not actually open-minded to the idea of not writing the story," he said. "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."
Heath pressed Fallon again, saying "I'm not trying to negotiate. I’m trying to get answers to basic questions."
Fallon remained firm:
"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."
You can read the full exchange here.
TechDirt said that Fallon's response was "a clear move by the DOJ to try to silence the press with an effective threat." The Wall Street Journal's Ted Mann said that the emails were "egregious, desperate flackery" on the DOJ's part.
The story was published on Thursday and included a comment from Fallon.
When asked to comment on the emails, Heath told HuffPost, "Anything I’d have to say is in the story." Heath wouldn't say whether or not he leaked the emails, but Fallon told HuffPost that he believed Heath leaked them.
"Brad is reporting on the lack of an OPR inquiry, but that only seems newsworthy if one might be warranted in the first place. It isn’t," he wrote. "For the last several days, we asked Brad to exercise discretion rather than write a story that leaves a false impression that there was any evidence of misconduct or basis for an inquiry. We proposed putting him in touch with people who could independently explain why no inquiry was warranted in hopes it might persuade him. When it became clear he intended to publish his story regardless, there was no point in asking any of those people to reach out."