Government & Communications

Attempts by governmental bodies to improve or impede communications with or between the citizenry.

AG Sessions Says DOJ Will Defend Protesters Against ‘Racism and Bigotry’

Attorney General Jeff Sessions became the latest official in the Trump administration to defend the president's comments following the car-ramming attack in Charlottesville (VA), while promising the Department of Justice would take "vigorous action" to defend the rights of Americans to protest bigotry.

"Well [Trump] made a very strong statement that directly contradicted the ideology of hatred, violence, bigotry, racism, white supremacy — those things must be condemned in this country," Sessions said. "They’re totally unacceptable, and you can be sure that this Department of Justice, in his administration, is going to take the most vigorous action to protect the right of people, like Heather Heyer, to protest against racism and bigotry...We’re going to protect the right to assemble and march and we’re going to prosecute anybody to the fullest extent of the law that violates the right to do so, you can be sure about that," Sessions said.

FCC Officials Denounce White Nationalists in Charlottesville

Newly minted Republican Federal Communications Commission Commissioner Brendan Carr was among the public officials to make a definitive statement denouncing the white nationalists behind a deadly protest in Charlottesville, Virginia. "These racists & white nationalists have only evil as their pedigree. Sickening," he wrote in a tweet. "It will always be beaten as justice & equality will prevail." FCC Chief of Staff Matthew Berry also slammed the "hatred, bigotry, and white nationalism on display in Charlottesville" in a post, which was later shared by Chairman Ajit Pai. A number of Republicans - including Sens. Cory Gardner (CO), Ted Cruz (TX) and Orrin Hatch (UT) - have spoken up against the white supremacist groups behind the rally, where a woman was killed after a car rammed through a crowd of counter-protesters. President Donald Trump has been criticized for failing to specifically name and condemn the extremists in his remarks.

My Response to Charlottesville.

[Commentary] It is those who turn to violence and view themselves as a law unto themselves that are “the other side.” To be clear, I do not speak of those who merely defend themselves. If an armed mob assaults protesters, then those assaulted have the right to defend themselves. No, the “other side” are those who think that they have been provoked so that the rule of law no longer applies. Those who think they are a law unto themselves, empowered to deal death and violence for their ‘sacred cause.’ These who consider themselves their own law, and those who encourage them, are the “other side.” They are the enemy that needs to be condemned.

So I say again, there is no “all sides.” There is no “both sides.” There is no right versus left in the defense of the principles of free speech and democracy. Are you with the Rule of Law, or do you believe yourself a law of your own? Those are the two sides — and only one is at fault for the deaths in Charlottesville.

[Harold Feld is Senior Vice President at Public Knowledge]

Twitter users want President Trump’s account suspended for ‘threatening violence’ against North Korea

Can a president be suspended from Twitter for threatening to attack another country? That's what some Twitter users, including actor and former Barack Obama aide Kal Penn, are demanding, after President Donald Trump tweeted Aug 11 that US “military solutions are now fully in place, locked and loaded, should North Korea act unwisely.” Critics of the president's tweet say the rhetoric reflects a threat of violence against North Korea that violates Twitter's rules and terms of service.

Federal government takes down data on President Trump's DC hotel

The General Services Administration (GSA) pulled unredacted documents from its website Aug 10 that revealed President Donald Trump's Washington hotel has made $1.97 million in profits so far in 2017. "The documents were posted inadvertently and have been removed from the website," said Pamela Dixon, a spokeswoman for the GSA. Trump International Hotel, which sits blocks away from the White House, was expected to lose more than $2 million in its first four months, according to the documents. But the hotel raised its room rates after Trump took office, charging an average of $652.98 per night from January to April and resulting in a sizable profit. Comparable luxury hotels, according to The Washington Post, charged an average of $495 per night, putting Trump's hotel among Washington's most expensive. The Trump Organization leases the building in which the hotel is located from the GSA, the agency that acts as the federal government's landlord. The hotel has also become a point of controversy for the president, with ethics watchdogs questioning whether Trump is using the presidency to drum up business at the hotel.

Congressional investigators want to question Trump's longtime secretary, Rhona Graff, in Russia probe

Congressional investigators want to question President Donald Trump’s longtime personal secretary as part of their ongoing probe into a controversial meeting between Trump campaign officials and a Russian lawyer promising dirt on Hillary Clinton.

Rhona Graff, a senior vice president at the Trump Organization who has worked at Trump Tower for nearly 30 years, has acted as a gatekeeper to Trump. She remains a point of contact for the sprawling universe of Trump associates, politicians, reporters and others seeking Trump's time and attention, even now that he's in the White House. Graff's position in Trump's orbit recently gained attention after Donald Trump Jr. released a June 2016 email exchange with British publicist Rob Goldstone leading up to the meeting with Russian attorney Natalia Veselnitskaya at Trump Tower.

Who did Trump borrow his press tactics from? Joe McCarthy.

[Commentary] Joe McCarthy loved to savage reporters, singling them out by name at his rallies in the 1950s. The Republican senator from Wisconsin knew the work of each reporter who covered his years-long campaign aimed at rooting out the communists who were supposedly seeded throughout the federal government. Then, moments after leaving the stage, McCarthy would sidle up to a reporter he’d just finished flaying and toss an arm around him: “That was just good fun.” Reporters who’ve covered Donald Trump anytime in the past four decades know that sense of whiplash all too well.

President Trump and McCarthy share a populist, demagogic speaking style and a propensity to say anything to win the moment. The two men are often compared because they both aggressively hit back at their critics and tended to inflate minor slights or partisan rows into threats against the nation. But their similarities go deeper: Both won and cemented support by using, attacking and foiling the news media. Both deployed a crazy quilt of behavior to demand news coverage — and then stomped on those same organizations as disloyal liars conspiring against them. And both enjoyed extended periods of popularity even amid reporting about their erratic behavior and tendency to say things that weren’t true. In the end, McCarthy fell from grace, but journalism alone wasn’t enough to end his destructive crusade. The news reporting about McCarthy’s excesses did over time diminish his popular support, but ultimately that souring of sentiment had to filter up from the public to their elected representatives. It took years, but McCarthy was finally held to account.

President Trump Is Going After Legal Protections for Journalists

[Commentary] Recent statement by Attorney General Jeff Sessions mark a serious intervention in a delicate, decades-long balancing act between the federal government and professional journalists.

A change in the policy about press subpoenas could have grave consequences for the government and press alike. A subpoena is the legal tool that forces an individual to testify or produce evidence. When subpoenas are issued to journalists (or their communications providers) in leak investigations, it is most often for the purpose of identifying a leaker: Match the relevant reporter’s telephone records to an individual with access to the classified information — or better yet, force the reporter to testify directly as to the source — and you’ve got your leaker. But you’ve also compromised the press’s ability to protect their sources, undermining their ability to do their job. Reporters who refuse to reveal their sources in compliance with such subpoenas risk contempt charges.

While the Constitution limits government intrusion on the freedom of speech and of the press, the law does not offer absolute protection for journalists against revealing their sources. Congress has not enacted robust protections and the Supreme Court has not interpreted the First Amendment as itself embodying such a privilege — nothing approximating a broad “press privilege” relieving reporters from revealing sources. Such a privilege is protected at the state level in nearly all states. But no such privilege has been recognized uniformly at the federal level.

[Murillo is a third-year student at Harvard Law School, where she is an editor of the Harvard Law Review]

Dispute Over Public Officials and Social Media

An emerging debate about whether elected officials violate people's free speech rights by blocking them on social media is spreading across the US as groups sue or warn politicians to stop the practice.

The American Civil Liberties Union sued Gov Paul LePage (R-ME) and sent warning letters to Utah's congressional delegation. It followed recent lawsuits against the governors of Maryland and Kentucky and President Donald Trump. Politicians at all levels increasingly embrace social media to discuss government business, sometimes at the expense of traditional town halls or in-person meetings. "People turn to social media because they see their elected officials as being available there and they're hungry for opportunities to express their opinions and share feedback," said Anna Thomas, spokeswoman for the ACLU of Utah. "That includes people who disagree with public officials." Most of the officials targeted so far — all Republicans — say they are not violating free speech but policing social media pages to get rid of people who post hateful, violent, obscene or abusive messages.

Network Neutrality Fake Out

As the number of online comments in the Federal Communications Commission's network neutrality proceeding soars to record highs, groups on both sides of the debate are calling on Congress to investigate mounting allegations of fake public input. The latest allegations come from the conservative-leaning National Legal and Policy Center (NLPC), which said a whopping 5.8 million pro-net neutrality comments submitted between July 17 and Aug. 4 using the same one sentence appear to be fake. The docket has been plagued for months by charges that many of the comments are duplicates, filed under fake names or submitted without the permission of the people who supposedly signed them. The growing controversy is raising questions about how the comments will be used when the FCC mulls a final order. "It's almost unimaginable how anybody thinks this could do any good," NLPC President Peter Flaherty said.