WASHINGTON, D.C. – E-mails written last year by a Senate Press Gallery official call into question the veracity of statements made by the official and members of the gallery’s Standing Committee of Correspondents at an April 15 hearing to appeal the panel’s denial of credentials for WorldNetDaily.
The documents also reveal that committee members apparently delayed formal review of the popular newssite’s press-pass application for at least seven months. They waited a full year before finally deciding.
Reporters need hard passes to freely cover Congress, and the committee picks which news organizations qualify for them.
At the hearing, committee chairman William L. Roberts III of Bloomberg News maintained that the panel met to discuss WND’s application “not long after you sent it” on Feb. 8, 2001.
Pressed to be more specific, gallery deputy director Stephen J. “Joe” Keenan — a federal employee who serves as “liaison” to the Standing Committee —
interjected to affirm that the committee first met regarding WND three months later, on May 5, 2001.
But that wasn’t right, either.
The committee later took the liberty of amending the record: “The correct date is April 23, 2001,” it quietly inserted into the official transcripts of the hearing.
But that’s not what Keenan indicated last year in e-mails to WND.
Has the committee met to decide on WND’s credentials? queried WND in a June 2001 e-mail to Keenan.
“Not yet,” Keenan said in his June 26, 2001, reply. “They have three new applications to deal with, so they should do so soon.”
Asked if WND’s application would be included with the others for consideration at that meeting, Keenan answered, “Yes.”
(In each of Keenan’s replies, he cut away the history. That is, he deleted the question in the original message, so that it would not show up in his reply. He claimed at the hearing that he no longer has any of the e-mails.)
When no word came, WND asked for an update. Over the phone, Keenan claimed the committee didn’t meet.
In August, WND followed up again. Had the panel met on WND’s press credentials?
“They still haven’t met,” Keenan stated in his Aug. 27, 2001, reply. “As you probably know, everyone leaves D.C. in August. With Congress gone and the President [sic] in Texas, the gallery is empty.”
WND would have to wait until September to be considered, he said – seven months after it applied for a press badge.
“The committee will probably meet when everyone gets back after labor day [sic],” Keenan wrote.
Not until January 29, 2002 – nearly a year later – did the five-member committee finally meet to adjudicate WND’s application. By a 5-0 vote, they denied it.
Roberts refused to comment on the discrepancies, referring questions to the committee’s lawyer.
“Listen, I think I referred you to our attorney, didn’t I?” Roberts snapped when pressed.
Donna M. Smith who was on the committee last year, claims she doesn’t know when she and other members convened to discuss WND’s application.
“I don’t know,” the Reuters correspondent said in a phone interview. “I can’t recall.”
Committee counsel N. Frank Wiggins was asked last month in a letter from WND to review the inconsistencies in dates.
A few days later, Wiggins, an attorney with Venable LLP, said by phone: “Candidly, I didn’t go back and look at the part of the record that you cited to and stuff, because I wasn’t asked to” by Roberts.
“I’m just the lawyer here,” he said. “I’m not the decision-maker.”
Wiggins in February refused to turn over to WND’s legal team any documents generated by the committee in considering WND’s application. He claimed that neither discovery nor freedom-of-information rules applied to the Standing Committee of Correspondents, even though it is governed by the Senate Rules Committee.
Keenan, a Senate employee, says he didn’t save his copies of the e-mails he sent WND. He claims his computer automatically purged them, and apparently he did not print them out beforehand.
But according to Senate archivist Karen Paul, “All Senate employees are under National Archives guidelines to save anything that is record material, whether it’s faxes or e-mails.”
She added that if the computer-systems administrator in the press gallery doesn’t save e-mails electronically, staffers there are still supposed to “print them out and file them.”
WND counsel Richard D. Ackerman of the nonprofit U.S. Justice Foundation says he plans to point out the inconsistencies and record-keeping practices of the committee to the Senate Rules Committee, which is chaired by Sen. Chris Dodd , D-Conn.
“Given that the committee and its members can only act with direct instruction from the Speaker of the House and Sen. Dodd, I cannot believe that the Speaker or Sen. Dodd would have authorized lies like this,” Ackerman said.
“I know that Speaker (Dennis) Hastert (R-Ill.) and Sen. Dodd have much more respect for the First Amendment and the rights of journalists,” he added.