Resignation calls fly at Justice Dept. spokeswoman over Media Matters collaboration

Matthew Boyle | Investigative Reporter

Several targets of a collaborative relationship between Justice Department Office of Public Affairs director Tracy Schmaler and the liberal message group Media Matters for America told The Daily Caller that Schmaler’s conduct is grounds for her resignation, or for the termination of her employment.

And members of Congress have told TheDC that Media Matters’ enviable tax-exempt status may be in jeopardy as a result of that collusion.

Emails TheDC obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request show Schmaler — Attorney General Eric Holder’s top press defender — and Media Matters staffers working together to attack reporters covering DOJ scandals and other administration critics. (RELATED: Emails reveal Justice Dept. regularly enlists Media Matters to spin press)

One target of Media Matters and Schmaler, now-former DOJ attorney Chris Coates, told TheDC he thinks Schmaler should step down. “I think that a resignation would be in order from her,” Coates said in a phone interview.

Coates was still a DOJ employee when Schmaler worked with Media Matters in the fall of 2010 to attack him. He was at one time the chief of the Civil Rights Division’s Voting Rights Section, a high-ranking position for a civil servant who was not politically appointed.

While Schmaler and Media Matters collaborated to attack Coates’ reputation, he was prosecuting cases for the U.S. Attorney’s office in South Carolina.

“I do find it unusual that apparently during the time that I was prosecuting criminal cases in South Carolina for the Department of Justice, the Department’s press spokesman was clandestinely providing information to chosen media outlets to try to defame me,” Coates told TheDC.

“Some of that information was false.”

Coates left the DOJ in May 2011 and is now in private practice in South Carolina. But during his tenure at the Justice Department, he was actively involved in a voter intimidation case targeting the New Black Panther Party. A scandal erupted when DOJ dismissed the case, despite videotaped evidence of alleged voter intimidation at a November 2008 polling place in Philadelphia.

The Heritage Foundation’s Hans von Spakovsky, also a former DOJ official targeted by Schmaler and Media Matters, told TheDC he agrees Schmaler should resign.

“The President and Attorney General Holder should be embarrassed over such behavior by one of their political appointees,” von Spakovsky said in an email. “Tracy Schmaler must resign immediately. Holder’s failure to ask for her resignation will be confirmation that he approved of her unethical, unprofessional, and undemocratic behavior.”

Of the Justice Department’s coordination with Media Matters to bash his reputation, von Spakovsky said the administration’s behavior seems dictatorial.

“I know from my family’s personal experience that it is dictatorships and third world banana republics that use the machinery of government to attack their critics,” he wrote. “It is both shameful and shocking that such thuggish behavior has gone on at the U.S. Department of Justice where I formerly worked.”

Fellow DOJ official and Media Matters-DOJ target J. Christian Adams echoed von Spakovsky and Coates and demand Schmaler’s termination. “DOJ employees who use their high paying job to falsely attack people should not have high paying jobs,” Adams told TheDC. “Her behavior isn’t worthy of being a public servant.”

Another target, Townhall magazine news editor Katie Pavlich, said Schmaler should resign or be fired. Schmaler, she said, should also be “investigated for violating the Whistleblower Protection Act by using Media Matters to retaliate against Adams and Coates.”

Arizona Republican Rep. Trent Franks told TheDC that Schmaler’s conduct is indicative of the Obama administration’s efforts to distract the public and attack critics in the face of Operation Fast and Furious, and other agency scandals. (RELATED: Fox News: Justice Dept. thinks its collaboration with Media Matters ‘not a big deal’)

“When the truth isn’t on one’s side — and it isn’t on the Administration’s side, as it pertains to Operation Fast and Furious — one has a limited number of options: face the truth or attempt to suppress it,” Franks said in an email.

“This Administration has, perhaps unsurprisingly, chosen the latter. Attacking whistleblowers, including veteran Department employees, is not conduct befitting of the United States Justice Department, and raises serious questions about Ms. Schmaler’s ability to adequately perform her professional duties, as well as questions about whether she acted under the orders of her superiors.”

Franks said revelations in the collection of emails TheDC published Tuesday should lead Congress to investigate whether Media Matters is eligible to continue operating under the tax-exempt status it currently enjoys.

“The briefest survey of Media Matters’ website makes it clear the organization has a firm commitment to advancing a narrative that benefits President Obama’s campaign,” Franks said. “Between the consistent slant of the site’s ‘research’ and recent stories indicating the organization worked directly with the Obama Administration to actively target reporters who dared criticize the Administration’s disgracefully botched handling of Operation Fast and Furious, an investigation into Media Matters’ 501(c)(3) status is more than warranted.”

Arizona Republican Rep. Ben Quayle echoed Franks’ concerns about the DOJ’s coordination with Media Matters.

“This administration — they’re propagandists,” Quayle said in a phone interview. “They try to use their allies within the media, and knowing that Media Matters does have a tremendous amount of sway within the liberal media — because, many times, anchors are just reading reports coming off Media Matters — they’re using it as a way of intimidation.”

“Does this violate any whistleblower protection laws that are out there?” Quayle asked. “I think this is a very serious matter that needs to be investigated.”

“Another thing I think that needs to be talked about is, ‘How does Media Matters justify their 501(c)3 status right now?'” Quayle added.

Tax-exempt status under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, which Media Matters enjoys, allows its donors to claim income-tax deductions for their contributions, and also exempts Media Matters itself from paying federal tax on its income. That status is typically reserved for organizations that don’t engage in excessive partisan politicking. (RELATED: TheDC’s complete coverage of Media Matters)

But Quayle insisted that Media Matters is “overtly partisan and political. I think it [Congress] definitely should investigate it and I hope the folks at [the House] oversight [committee] start to look into it. Because when you’re having a tax-exempt organization being able to be just a partisan hack for the administration, I think that’s not what their status is supposed to be used for.”

He added that “there should be an investigation” of Schmaler’s conduct “to see if any laws have been violated via the intimidation of whistleblowers and news entities.”

The Obama administration, he continued, is “not acting in their government capacity, they’re acting in a political capacity at all times.”

“Take, for instance, how Kathleen Sebelius violated the Hatch Act and how she hasn’t been held accountable for that. Again, in this instance, you have a DOJ official using taxpayer resources to try to smear whistleblowers. And this is definitely, from a political point of view, to try to protect the administration from any negative publicity that might occur from these allegations.”

“There needs to be a bright line between official capacity and political capacity,” Quayle said. “That is always, it seems with this administration, completely blurred and totally combined into one thing.”

Arizona Republican Rep. Paul Gosar said the coordination between Media Matters and DOJ is “egregious.” Pointing to a DOJ inspector general report on Operation Fast and Furious released Wednesday, Gosar said Schmaler’s email trail “shows, once again, along with this report, that higher-ups in Justice were trying to diffuse the message that was coming out properly by The Daily Caller, by Fox News, by key Republicans, by the Oversight Committee, and others.”

Gosar also wants an investigation into coordination by Media Matters and the DOJ.

“I think not only should we bring in Media Matters, but also ask them in their collusion attempts with the DOJ what they actually did beyond what you have received in your FOIA requests,” he told TheDC in a phone interview.

Schmaler hasn’t answered questions about whether the 69 pages of emails TheDC obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request represent all the communications between the DOJ and the left-wing advocacy group.

The administration took nine months to respond to that public records request, even though executive branch agencies are required to provide answers in most cases within 20 business days.

“When we’re looking at this administration, it was supposed to the most transparent in history,” Gosar said. “If habit is any suggestion with these guys, there’s bunches and bunches more they’re holding onto. And when you look at what we’ve been able to get at the [House] oversight committee compared to what the inspector general got, we’ve just touched the tip of the iceberg.”

“We need to fire the president and his administration and we need to fire Attorney General Eric Holder,” Gosar said, adding that Schmaler is likely “taking orders from those top people.”

These calls for Media Matters investigations come on the heels of Texas Republican Rep. Blake Farenthold’s similar demand Tuesday. (RELATED: GOP Rep. says Congress will likely investigate DOJ-Media Matters collusion, target group’s tax-exempt status)

“This problem stems from poor management at the top that is more concerned with politics than sound policy and fair application of justice,” Farenthold said in an email to TheDC on Wednesday.

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