Emails reveal Justice Dept. regularly enlists Media Matters to spin press

“[C]ompletely false,” Schmaler wrote of Phillips’ allegation. “[W]ide receiver and Hernandez put this to a lie. There’s been lots of coverage on previous bush operations…”

“Thanks,” Gertz responded one minute later.

“Hernandez” was a reference to Fidel Hernandez, the subject of DOJ’s first — and failed — attempt to direct a “controlled delivery of weapons” across the Mexican border by arms traffickers for the purpose of tracking them to their eventual destination.

At 4:05 p.m. the same day Gertz and Schmaler were emailing about Judson Phillips, Media Matters’ Chris Brown wrote a blog entry attacking Phillips for his televised appearance.

“Not surprisingly, Phillips spent the interview promoting the right-wing conspiracy theory that Fast and Furious was a plot to promote gun control instead of a failed law enforcement investigation,” Brown wrote, adding a mention of what Schmaler had emailed: “Further, Phillips refers to Fast and Furious as a ‘partisan program’ despite the fact that Bush-era investigations featured similar ‘gun walking’ tactics as those used in Fast and Furious.”

Seven minutes after Brown’s blog post appeared online, Gertz sent the full text in an email to Schmaler with the headline, “FYI.”

Schmaler had a new request for Gertz on March 20, 2012. “Got time for a call?” the DOJ’s top communications official wrote to the progressive activist at 2:20 p.m.

Eleven minutes later, Gertz responded, writing, “Got blocks between 10:30 and noon and between 2 and 4.”

It’s unclear what they spoke about. But Gertz wrote significant amounts of material thereafter defending the slain Florida teenager Trayvon Martin and attacking the National Rifle Association and “stand your ground” laws.

Other than two blog posts he wrote in the days immediately before the email setting up a phone call with Schmaler, Gertz had not written much about the story of the black teenager shot by a Hispanic man in Sanford, Fla on Feb. 26. The DOJ had announced on March 19 that it was launching its own investigation into the Martin case.

Throughout the email exchanges TheDC obtained through the FOIA request are numerous examples of Gertz and other Media Matters staff sending the full text of Media Matters blog entries attacking the DOJ’s political opponents in the media.

Among others, Gertz sent Schmaler attack pieces he wrote about Townhall Magazine’s Katie Pavlich, who also authored a book on Operation Fast and Furious; Breitbart.com writers Joel Pollak and Ken Klukowski; Fox News Channel’s William LaJeunesse, Judge Andrew Napolitano, Megyn Kelly, Martha MacCallum, Bill Hemmer, Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity; Sipsey Street Irregulars blogger Mike Vanderboegh; DirectorBlue blogger Doug Ross; National Review’s Andrew C. McCarthy; and this reporter.

TheDC filed its FOIA request on Dec. 4, 2011 and the Department of Justice acknowledged receiving it a day later. The request, however, was not fulfilled until Aug. 30, 2012 — far outside the 20-business-day limit to fulfill a FOIA request under the law. TheDC was not given any notification of a time extension in the months this request sat before DOJ acted on it.

The DOJ’s own published guidelines for responding to FOIA requests state that “[u]nder the law, all federal agencies are required to respond to a FOIA request within 20 business days, unless there are ‘unusual circumstances.'” Those circumstances, the DOJ writes, include the need to collect records from field offices, a request involving a “voluminous” amount of records, and the need “to consult with another federal agency or other Department of Justice components that have a substantial interest in the responsive information.”

Neither Media Matters’ spokeswoman nor Schmaler replied to TheDC’s requests for comment.

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