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Lesson in how the administration attempts to manipulate the press and news coverage: Fast and Furious email to Attorney General Eric Holder from a communications adviser, Oct. 5, 2011 [emphasis added below]. (President Obama withheld this email under executive privilege but it was recently released as a result of a lawsuit filed by Judicial Watch against the Justice Department).
Matthew Miller to Attorney General Holder:
1. Send a letter to the Hill explaining what happened. Put in context the amount of information you get every week, say that you don’t recall reading those bullets or being aware of Fast and Furious at any time before early this year, but in any event, you certainly weren’t aware of the gun walking aspect of it until the news broke earlier this year (at which point you took immediate steps to have the IG investigate, etc.). This needs to happen tomorrow. In fact, it should’ve happened today. The last time your credibility was directly questioned was whether you had disclosed all of your amicus briefs — the story started to break on a Thursday night, and we made people stay up all night compiling information so we could get a response out by 1 pm or so on Friday.
2. Find a way for you to get in front of a reporter or two about this. You don’t want to call a press conference on this because it will blow things out perspective, but if you have any events in the next few days (preferably tomorrow), you could find a way to take two or three questions on it afterwards. Or if that’s not easily doable, you could find a way to “run into” a couple of reporters on your way to something. Maybe Pete Williams, Carrie, Pete Yost — that
part can be managed. Most important is that you’re in front of a camera in a relaxed manner giving a response you have rehearsed…It would be ideal if those two things happened in the same day so you didn’t have two news cycles of responding — you want to do it all at once. There may be things you need to do to go on offense as well, but I think most important right now is that you answer the charge about covering this up. Then you can move to offense.
[Note: Pete Yost of AP wrote article on Bush-era gunwalking case that seemed to so impress Holder, he wrote ” WOW!” p. 539 AP presented the story as if it were “new” although I had published on the case, Wide Receiver, months earlier, with an exclusive interview with a confidential informant from the case.]
More in Stonewalled
The more I think about the offense versus defense part, I do think you should go on offense, too. After explaining what happened, you could go back at them by saying something like: “But let’s be clear what this is all about. I’ve ordered an investigation into what happened. But there are people on the Hill who don’t care about what really happened. For them this has become about scoring political points and weakening an agency charged with cracking down on gun violence. There are a lot of powerful lobbyists and their allies on the hill who have wanted to cripple the ATF for a long time, and they’re using this as an opportunity to do so. I’m not going to let them. Its clear the ATF made mistakes here. We’ve cleaned house, and we’re going to fix the agency, but we’re not going to allow it to be put out of business by people carrying water for the gun lobby.” This part has to be really carefully crafted and delivered, but I think it could be effective as a one-two punch. (One, explain what happened with your testimony; two, punch back.)
If I were you, I would want answers from the entire team (Cole, Reich, on down), on why the Department let Issa decide what to do with these memos. The whole point of the review is to find things like this and come up with plans for dealing with them. It should have been obvious that these memos were going to be a huge target, and instead of just handing them over, the Department should have put them out to reporters on its own terms, instead of letting Issa do it. Give them to lssa at the same time you give them to the press with an explanation that takes the air out of the balloon. And if the answer is we owe it to Issa to give him this stuff first — well, that’s obviously ridiculous.
[DOJ’s Tracy Schmaler discusses with White House’s Eric Schultz on how to spin the press Oct. 4, 2011]
“I’ve talked to NYT, NBC and NPR —gave them all this. NBC not likely to go. Still waiting on other two.” [Note: Then, the documents redact the ‘points’ Schmaler actually sent to the news outlets. That is public information that should not be redacted.]
[Schultz to Schmaler]
Any way we can fix Fox?
[Schmaler to Schultz regarding my reporting on Fast and Furious] “No stories..From NYT, AP, Reuters, WaPo, NBC, Bloomberg … I”m also calling Sharryl”s editor and reaching out to Scheiffer.She’s out of control”
[Schultz to Schmaler] “Good. Her piece was really bad for AG. Why do you think nobody else wrote? Were they not fed the docs?…And I sent NJ’s Susan Davis your way. She’s writing on Issa/FandF and I said you could load her up on the leaks, etc.”
[Schmaler compliments Washington Post “Sari” Horwitz to Holder] “Sari (WaPo reporter) was good – pointed out Issa previous briefing, that weekly reports didn’t reveal tactics and noted previous op in Bush Admin.”
[Attorney Gen. Holder email below said he doesn’t usually bother to read briefings sent to him directly by his top advisers, including mentions of Fast and Furious long before he said he’d heard of the case.]
“Sigh. Can I see the 2 reports mentioned below- sure I didn’t read them. I rarely do. The February e-mail shows that was my first real F/F knowledge.”
[Holder email addressing, specifically, the briefings sent to him by National Drug Intelligence Center adviser and Criminal Division chief]
“I generally don’t read those.”
“Bad story coming on CBS Evening News tonight.” [Justice Dept. public affairs flack to Holder chief of staff Grindler on Oct. 3, 2011]