AP Reporter: DOJ Harassing, Intimidating Journalists

After State Department Deputy Spokesman Patrick Ventrell praised the agency's support of a "free press" on Thursday, Associated Press reporter Matt Lee engaged Ventrell over the release of Department records and the Department of Justice's investigation into James Rosen's activies. 

Fox News questioned Ventrell on whether former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton knew that the State Department was investigating James Rosen's activities while in the Department building. Ventrell declined to answer because the investigation is a "law enforcement matter." Lee immediately engaged Ventrell by asking if Diplomatic Security handed over the movements of reporters inside the State Department freely or if they required a subpoena. Ventrell claimed he didn't have knowledge of the exchange of information but said that his "understanding" was a "legal process" was required to be followed.

Later in the press briefing a reporter told Ventrell that he had a "broad" question on the Department's views of a "free press." "We support a free press," Ventrell said with a laugh. "Do you? Do you really?" Lee responded with a serious tone.

Ventrell went on to praise the "high priority" the State Department places on supporting the freedom of the press "globally." He claimed the Department has a "deep concern for the well-being of journalists who face violence and repression" for their work.

"Is it just violence and repression? Or is it also government intimidation or – that you’re opposed to?" Lee asked. Ventrell said that intimidation and harassment are also opposed by the State Department.

"So in other words, the State Department opposes the Administration – the rest of the Justice Department’s investigations..." Lee shot back. Ventrell declined to comment and claimed that Lee was "conflating" two separate issues. Ventrell later said the Administration, and the President specifically, has spoken "extensively" about this issue and the White House opposes stifling the press. 

Lee maintained that opposing government intimidation and harassment of the press was in conflict of the Department of Justice's investigation. "Again, you’re trying to get me to conflate two issues," Ventrell replied.

Read the transcript and watch the exchange below: 

QUESTION: And then on a separate topic, was former Secretary Clinton consulted with the tracking of my colleague James Rosen’s building – State Department building swipe? And were any other employees interviewed in connection with the North Korea reporting that James Rosen did?

MR. VENTRELL: My understanding, this is a law enforcement matter. I really refer you to the Department of Justice for all details on that. In terms of our cooperation with the Department of Justice or the FBI on matters, that would be handled through Diplomatic Security channels and law enforcement channels. That’s how that’s done.

QUESTION: So you – in principle, DS doesn’t have a problem turning over badge records to --

MR. VENTRELL: Again, I’m not aware of the specific cooperation on this case, but --

QUESTION: Well, they got the records of his entry and egress, so you guys obviously handed – I mean, they didn’t make them up, I hope.

MR. VENTRELL: Well, I can’t --

QUESTION: So you guys obviously gave them to them.

MR. VENTRELL: I can’t comment on any details of this particular case, but when we have --

QUESTION: Well, I’m not talking about this particular case. Just in general, I mean, are you, like, running around, giving out the details of our comings and goings from this building?

MR. VENTRELL: Issues of cooperation on law enforcement matters between Diplomatic Security and the FBI are handled in law enforcement channels. I don’t have anything further on it.

QUESTION: Wait. Well, so you mean you’re not – do you just give the information out if people ask for it? Or do they need a court order or something?

MR. VENTRELL: Matt, I’m not sure of the legal circumstances on that kind of information sharing.

QUESTION: Well, can you check?

MR. VENTRELL: Sure.

QUESTION: It would be --

MR. VENTRELL: I’m happy to check on --

QUESTION: If DOJ comes to you and says we want the entry and exit records from people, persons X, Y, and Z, do you just give them to them? Or do they have to --

MR. VENTRELL: My understanding is there’s a legal process that’s followed, but I’d have to check with the lawyers.

QUESTION: Well, can you find out what the – what it is --

MR. VENTRELL: I’d be happy to check.

[...]

QUESTION: Question, Patrick, on the freedom of the press, globally.

MR. VENTRELL: You ask very broad questions, Goyal. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Just simple question on the freedom of the press.

MR. VENTRELL: We support the freedom of the press. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: And the question is --

QUESTION: Do you?

MR. VENTRELL: We do.

QUESTION: Do you really?

MR. VENTRELL: We do, Matt.

QUESTION: Are you speaking for the entire Administration, or just this building?

MR. VENTRELL: We support the freedom of the press. We support it globally. We support it here at home.

QUESTION: That’s the position of this building. Is it the position of the entire Administration?

MR. VENTRELL: It is.

QUESTION: Just to mark the international freedom of the press, and recently Freedom House, they placed another 84 names of the journalists who were killed in 25 countries, but – these are only official from the Freedom House – but hundreds of journalists are beaten, jailed, or killed in many countries – more than 25 countries. My question is here: When Secretary meets with world leaders here or abroad, does he talk ever other than human rights but on the freedom of the press in these countries?

MR. VENTRELL: Indeed, he constantly and consistently raises these issues with foreign leaders around the world and here when he meets with them. And I think you heard over the two weeks during our freedom of the press activities, many of the cases that we called out, the high priority that we place on this, and our deep concern for the well-being of journalists who face violence and repression for the work that they do around the world. So that’s something we’re deeply committed to.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) especially in China or Saudi Arabia and --

MR. VENTRELL: It includes all those countries.

QUESTION: Thank you, sir.

QUESTION: Is it just violence and repression? Or is it also government intimidation or – that you’re opposed to?

MR. VENTRELL: That as well. All of that.

QUESTION: So in other words, the State Department opposes the Administration – the rest of the Justice Department’s investigations into --

MR. VENTRELL: Well, again, I think you’re trying to conflate two issues here.

QUESTION: No, no. I’m asking about freedom of the press. That was what the question was.

MR. VENTRELL: And we do – and we support freedom of the press. I think you’ve heard the President – I think you’ve heard the White House talk about this extensively.

QUESTION: Right. So you – and you think that violence and repression against journalism – journalists is wrong, as you do harassment or intimidation by government agencies.

MR. VENTRELL: All of the above.

QUESTION: So you do not regard what the Justice Department has been doing as harassment or intimidation.

MR. VENTRELL: Again, I can’t comment on a specific law enforcement investigation.

QUESTION: I’m not asking about a specific case. In general, would the State Department oppose or support harassment, intimidation, or prosecution of journalists for publishing information?

MR. VENTRELL: We oppose that, in terms of them – is this around the world --

QUESTION: Okay. So the State Department then opposes the Justice Department’s prosecution.

MR. VENTRELL: Again, you’re trying to get me to conflate two issues.


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