After CBS News aired a damaging report which suggested Attorney General Eric Holder had lied to Congress, the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) press director worked overtime to suppress reporter Sharyl Attkisson’s story and called her CBS superiors to complain.
Attkisson published a blockbuster story on October 3, 2011, based on documents which demonstrated that AG Holder was briefed on the Fast and Furious gun-walking case starting in the summer of 2010. Those documents directly contradicted Holder’s claim that he first heard about Fast and Furious a few weeks before his congressional testimony in May 2011. Below is the video of Attkisson’s story as it aired:
Emails published by Judicial Watch after a multi-year FOIA request show that DOJ Public Affairs Director Tracy Schmaler worked hard to suppress the story. On the day after the CBS story aired, Schmaler sent an email to her White House counterpart Eric Schultz which read, “No stories from NYT, AP, Reuters, WaPo, NBC, Bloomberg.” Schmaler added, “I’m also calling Sharryl’s [sic] editor and reaching out to [CBS senior correspondent Bob] Scheiffer. She’s out of control.”
About half an hour later, Eric Schultz replied, “Good. Her piece was really bad for the AG.” Schultz then asked, “Why do you think no one else wrote? Were they not fed the docs?” Schmaler replied immediately, “I spent much of last night explaining to everyone it’s a bullshit accusation.”
It’s not clear why Schmaler was able to convince so many news outlets that evidence the AG was lying was not a news story. As Attkisson reported, the claim made by the DOJ was that Holder had misunderstood the question; his response had been when he first learned about the controversial gun-walking strategy, not when he had first heard of Fast and Furious as an investigation.
But the transcript of the exchange in which Holder made this claim does not seem to support his story:
REPRESENTATIVE DARRELL ISSA (R-CA): Mr. Attorney General, we have two Border Patrol agents who are dead, who were killed by guns that were allowed, as far as we can tell, to deliberately walk out of gun shops under the program often called Fast and Furious. This program, as you know–and the president’s been asked about it; you’ve been asked about it– allowed for weapons to be sold to straw purchasers, and ultimately many of those weapons are today in the hands of drug cartels and other criminals. When did you first know about the program, officially, I believe, called Fast and Furious? To the best of your knowledge, what date?
ATTY. GEN. HOLDER: I’m not sure of the exact date, but I probably heard about Fast and Furious for the first time over the last few weeks.
When Holder appeared before Congress to testify in November 2011, Sen. Patrick Leahy tried to help Holder smooth over the apparent discrepancy by rephrasing the question. “When did you first learn of the operational tactics being used in Operation Fast and Furious and what did you do about it?” Holder replied, “I first learned about the tactics and the phrase Operation Fast and Furious at the beginning of this year.”
A Vaughn index of emails related to Fast and Furious revealed that White House adviser Valerie Jarrett was exchanging emails with AG Holder on the morning of October 4, 2011. One of those emails from Jarrett was about “outlining and discussing preferred course of action for future responsesin light of recent development in congressional investigation.”
Holder was eventually held in contempt by Congress in June 2012 for his refusal to turn over documents related to the case. Later that year, DOJ Public Affairs Director Tracy Schmaler was caught working with Media Matters to go after whistleblowers and administration critics in the media. She resigned her position in March of 2013.
AG Holder announced in September that he will step down from his position as soon as a successor is confirmed. Reporter Sharyl Attkisson left CBS News earlier this year, complaining that CBS seemed less interested in airing her stories, many of which were critical of the Obama administration.