For the Record: Yes, the Government Really Did Trash-Talk Our FISA Story

The Washington Posts’s Erik Wemple has cast doubt on two details we reported in Glenn Greenwald and Murtaza Hussain’s story this week on FBI and NSA surveillance of prominent Muslim-Americans. His quibbles are not central to the story, but they merit a response because he is simply wrong.

Wemple disputes two claims we made in the story: 1) that while we were reporting the story, officials at the Department of Justice reached out to Muslim community leaders and claimed that it would contain errors even though it hadn’t been written yet, and 2) that Justice Department officials refused to acknowledge our requests for comment.

With respect to 1), Wemple contends that it was Muslim leaders themselves who went to the Justice Department to talk about our story, and not the other way around. His evidence is an account of a regularly scheduled July 1 meeting between members of the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) and a variety of government officials at the Justice Department. According to a memo Wemple obtained, it was the ADC itself that put the issue of “NSA surveillance of community organizations” on that meeting’s agenda, purportedly because our reporting had by that point kicked up enough dust that word had gotten around. Wemple also talked to several participants at the meeting, who described government officials as simply cautioning against making “assumptions,” as opposed to making claims that story would be inaccurate.

“[T]hat the ADC placed this matter before the government,” Wemple writes, “raises doubts as to just how strenuously Justice officials were ‘reaching out’ to discredit the pending Greenwald-Hussain story.”

I’m not in a position to dispute Wemple’s account of the July 1 meeting. But we began hearing about Justice Department officials attempting to discredit our story long before that meeting took place. Below are three emails, dated June 19 and 20, that I sent to Justice Department chief spokesman Brian Fallon telling him that “the Department of Justice has been reaching out to Muslim leaders in advance of the story” and inviting him to correct any inaccuracies.

Fallon1

Fallon2

Fallon3

Whatever happened at the July 1 meeting, it occurred almost two weeks after we had already reached out to Justice officials about their efforts to undermine our story.

With respect to 2), Wemple relays Justice Department national security spokesman Marc Raimondi’s suggestion that the department had responded to our requests for comment:

Marc Raimondi, the Justice Department’s national security spokesman, takes issue with The Intercept. As to the claim that the Justice Department didn’t respond to comment requests, Raimondi writes, “The Justice Department was part of the interagency working group that responded to The Intercept staff numerous times during the creation of their story.”

As you can see above, I emailed Raimondi’s boss Brian Fallon three times in June seeking comment. I also called Fallon’s cell phone four times on June 19, once on June 20, and again on July 1. I called Raimondi’s cell phone once on June 19, twice on June 20, and once on July 1. I called the Justice Department’s main public affairs line and left messages once on June 19 and twice on June 20. And I texted both Raimondi and Fallon on June 19 and Raimondi again on July 1—on that occasion with the message, “You guys are clearly acting in bad faith on this story. Please call me.” Nobody responded to or acknowledged any of those messages.

raimondi

Despite those efforts, at no point in the reporting of the FISA story did any of the reporters involved communicate with any Justice Department public affairs officials. Nor did any of the other government spokespeople we communicated with—at the NSA and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence—ever offer any indication that they were coordinating their responses with the Justice Department or were authorized to speak for Justice Department officials.

Any claim that Justice Department public affairs officials responded to, participated in, or cooperated with The Intercept‘s reporting of this story is a lie.

Email the author: john.cook@theintercept.com