Texas Republican Rep. Blake Farenthold said Tuesday that he expects the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform to investigate collusion between the Department of Justice and Media Matters for America, in the wake of The Daily Caller’s publication of emails between the liberal messaging group’s employees and a top DOJ spokeswoman.
Farenthold, the first member of Congress to demand Attorney General Eric Holder’s resignation over Operation Fast and Furious, said he thinks the committee should examined Media Matters’ tax-exempt status. That status allows the group’s donors to claim an income tax deduction for their contributions, and also permits Media Matters to pay no federal tax on its income.
Tax exemption under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, which Media Matters enjoys, is typically reserved for organizations that don’t engage in excessive partisan politicking.
“I think we need to look at the 501(c)3 status of Media Matters, and I think this is just more evidence that the Justice Department under Eric Holder is out of control. And it’s more evidence that Mr. Holder is not fit to run a lemonade stand,” Farenthold said of TheDC’s coverage during a radio interview on NRA News, an arm of the National Rifle Association.
Emails TheDC obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request and published Tuesday show DOJ Office of Public Affairs director Tracy Schmaler, Holder’s top press defender, and Media Matters staffers working together to attack reporters covering DOJ scandals.
“I just could not believe that the Justice Department, who you think is an objective arbiter of things, is actually coordinating with — beyond what anybody would consider to be reasonable — with an advocacy group,” Farenthold said of the revelation. “Now, Media Matters may argue whether or not they’re an advocacy group because they’re a 501(c)3 organization, but if you go to their website and read, you can definitely tell they’re a left[-wing] organization.”
“I think at some point, the ‘buck has got to stop here,’” Farenthold added. “In whose universe does this [collaboration] sound like a good idea? Sure, politicians will leak stuff and work more closely with friendly journalists, but you’d think the Department of Justice would be above politics.”
Media Matters staffers, he said, “were more like a consulting firm” for a politicized Justice Department exhibiting “either desperation or mismanagement all the way to the top.”
“All our congressional offices will reach out to organizations that have interests in things to get information out and do that sort of thing, but for the Justice Department to employ spin doctors? You’d think the Justice Department is supposed to be about the truth.”
During the NRA News interview, Farenthold said congressional authorities are already “looking at” whether any laws were broken. “This just broke while I was on the airplane to Washington this morning,” the Texas Republican said, so he hasn’t yet been directly involved with any investigation.
If Congress does launch an official investigation, Farenthold said he believes the House oversight committee would be the place for that to happen. That committee’s chairman, California Republican Rep. Darrell Issa, is one of the many public figures who emerged as joint Media Matters-DOJ targets, according to the emails TheDC published Tuesday.
“I think the House oversight committee would definitely have jurisdiction over it and I would imagine we’ll be taking a look at it,” Farenthold said. “I would be surprised if we didn’t.”
The “close interaction” Media Matters has had with the DOJ, he said, “certainly doesn’t pass the smell test.”
The Texas freshman also suggested that the DOJ’s Inspector General may be pressured during a Thursday hearing before the House oversight committee to investigate Tracy Schmaler’s coordination with Media Matters. “I certainly think it’s a question worth asking,” he said.
DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz is expected to release his report soon covering his office’s internal investigation into Operation Fast and Furious in the coming days. He is scheduled to testify Thursday before Issa’s committee.
While there have been calls for the DOJ’s Office of Professional Responsibility to investigate whether Schmaler engaged in unethical behavior or misconduct, the DOJ reportedly doesn’t think it’s a “big deal” that she worked with the left-wing advocacy organization.