Senator Chuck Grassley continues to press Attorney General Eric Holder for a complete accounting of a June incident in Louisiana where a senior civil rights lawyer for the department reportedly threatened a journalist. Grassley initially asked the Attorney General about the incident in July.
Grassley said he was disappointed in the response from the department which failed to answer the vast majority of his questions and to produce the documents requested. The alleged incident occurred at a meeting advertised as a public event to address the employment practices of a local fire department.
“I’m very concerned about what allegedly occurred in New Iberia. If the news reports are accurate, the conduct by the Justice Department would strike at the very heart of a free press. The department’s failure to answer questions and to produce relevant documents is unacceptable on a subject so fundamental to this country’s founding,” Grassley said
Grassley said he expected complete answers to his letter by September 28.
Here’s a copy of the text of the letter. A signed copy can be found here. Grassley’s July 17 letter can be found here and the department’s response can be found here.
September 20, 2012
Via Electronic Transmission
The Honorable Eric H. Holder, Jr.
U.S. Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Washington, DC 20530
Dear Attorney General Holder:
I write regarding the Department of Justice’s letter dated September 4, 2012 from Acting Assistant Attorney General Judith Appelbaum. Ms. Appelbaum was responding to my July 17, 2012 letter to you.
In my letter, I expressed my concern about reports of an incident at a public meeting in New Iberia, Louisiana involving a Senior Trial Attorney in the Civil Rights Division. A letter from the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press summarized the reports on the incident as follows:
It is our understanding that on [June 12, 2012], Ms. [Rachel] Hranitzky arrived at the meeting and immediately asked if any journalists were present. When a Daily Iberian reporter attending the meeting responded in the affirmative, she informed him that he could neither record the meeting nor quote her statements. According to other attendees, the meeting had been advertised as a public meeting intended to address concerns with the city fire department’s hiring and promotion process. However, citing ‘special rules’ of the Department of Justice for agency attorneys, Ms. Hranitzky instructed that her statements be neither recorded nor quoted. When the reporter questioned this instruction on the basis that Ms. Hranitzky was speaking at a public meeting, she apparently threatened him with the possibility that the DOJ could call his editors and publisher, and warned that he would not ‘want to get on the Department of Justice’s bad side.’ Furthermore, it is our understanding that Ms. Hranitzky demanded the reporter leave the meeting, although—after making his objection known but agreeing not to quote her—he was ultimately allowed to remain.
The reports about the incident in New Iberia and the existence of a DOJ policy or “special rules” which were the cause of the incident are troubling. Consequently, I wrote you and asked several direct questions and made requests for documents.
The September 4 response letter ignores the vast majority of my questions and does not provide all of the documents I requested. Accordingly, I am attaching a copy my July 17 letter and ask that you directly answer all of my questions and produce all of the documents that I requested.
Also, the September 4 response letter raises a new question. The letter states that “the [Civil Rights] Division has taken steps to ensure that its employees are fully aware of the Department’s consistent policy that public meetings are open to the public, including the press.” Describe in detail each of the “steps” taken.
I ask that you provide written answers and documents by September 28, 2012.
Charles E. Grassley
Ranking Member, Senate Judiciary Committee
Cc: Hon. Patrick J. Leahy, Chairman, Senate Judiciary Committee
 Matthew Beaton, “`DOJ practice’ slammed by politicos, group,” THE DAILY IBERIAN (July 8, 2012) (available at http://www.iberianet.com/news/doj-practice-slammed-by-politicos-group/article_32a8d028-c8b7-11e1-aa3d-0019bb2963f4.html).