Claytons denial from Ministers about the PM gag memo

A curious Claytons denial from two Ministers about the memo sent out by the Prime Minister’s office s that directed them not to have interviews or answer questions about the Friday dump of documents.

Both James Shaw and David Clark said they didn’t personally receive the email, but the news reports clearly stated that the memo was sent to Ministerial offices.  Ministers don’t personally deal with a lot of email. Ministerial staff also manage what interviews Ministers do, and deal with Ministerial statements.

James Shaw was asked on The Nation on Saturday:

“It seems that the Government wants to be transparent by dumping all these documents on Friday afternoon, yet there’s been a directive from the Prime Minister not to talk to the media about it. Did you get that memo, is that the kind of politics you want to play?”

Shaw began his response somewhat awkwardly:

A Ah um I I personally didn’t.  Um my understanding is that that went out to agencies…

Ministers don’t personally deal with a lot of correspondence including emails. They have staff for that. And the news of the memo didn’t say the memo was sent to Ministers: Ministers told to ‘dismiss’ interviews on Covid-19 documents – leaked memo

The prime minister’s office has directed all ministers not to give interviews on a Covid-19 document dump, saying there is “no real need to defend” themselves.

A leaked email, sent to Beehive staff today, directed them to issue only “brief written statements” in response to media queries about the documents.

Clearly this states “sent to Beehive staff “.

“Do not put Minister up for any interviews on this.”

“There’s no real need to defend. Because the public have confidence in what has been achieved and what the Govt is doing. Instead we can dismiss.”

The memo also included “key messages” for Ministers and staff to stick to in their written statements

It looks a bit like another memo may have been sent out with another ‘key message’ directive. On Sunday Minister of Health David Clark had a similar response: David Clark rejects idea Government ministers were gagged following COVID-19 document dump

Dr Clark said he didn’t receive the leaked email and only heard about it once the media reported it.

As with Shaw that doesn’t rule out his office receiving the email. Clark also made the point that he was ‘fronting up’:

At a press conference on Sunday morning where he announced increases to Pharmac’s funding, Dr David Clark said he was fronting media and answering questions on the documents “right now” and he’d also answered additional questions in interviews on Saturday.

“I’m comfortable and confident talking about the release of materials [about] the advice that the Government had received. As a Government, we’ve been transparent about the decisions we’ve made,”

Clark hardly ever sounds confident talking to media, including at this time. And his announcement of the Pharmac funding could have been timed and staged to try to contradict the directives from the memo.  It was a pre-budget announcement, they are typically done as part of the Government budget PR strategy.

One of the memo talking points was “”Evidence shows our decisions were the right ones”.  Clark had a similar response but worded differently.

“I think overaching all of this is the results, and um and you know they speak for themselves…that suggests that going hard and going early was the right strategy”.

Back to Shaw at Newshub: James Shaw defends gag on ministers talking about COVID-19 documents

A Ah um I I personally didn’t.  Um my understanding is that that went out to agencies ah and that is because it is really important in a time of crisis that the Government speaks with one voice, and the prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has been that voice, and I think it’s appropriate she continues to be that voice..

So Shaw defended the intent of the memo – that Ardern is ‘the voice’.

Asked: “So ok, so Ministers can’t talk about their respective areas and it all has to come from the Prime Minister, are you happy with that?”

A very hesitant response from Shaw – a common sign of thinking through what one should say in advance:

“Um, well I am talking about climate change Simon, I’ve been talking about climate change the entire time…

A similar response to Clark, saying he is talking about his portfolio.

Asked “Ok, but in terms of the way of operating are you happy with that, for other ministers as well, you’re buying into that?”

“Well like I said, ah I think it is entirely appropriate at a time of national crisis, the scale of which we haven’t seen since the  great depression and World War 2, that the Government speaks with one voice, I don’t think that there’s anything strange about that at all.”

Again he defends the aim of the memo, for Ministers to avoid talking about the Covid response and contents of document dump apart from with suggested phrases.

It could be a tough campaign for the Greens if they can’t claim any credit for the handling of Covid. Wil they really be happy for Ardern to attract all the votes for that?

Clark and Shaw may be technically correct that they didn’t personally receive the gag email, but they both made similar denials that aren’t really denials.


From NZ Herald:

Former MP Peter Dunne said today that email was a sign this Government was no different from any others in practising 9th floor “grubby” tactics.

While the PM’s office has called the email “clumsy”, Dunne told Newstalk ZB’s Mike Hosking “that doesn’t hide the fact they see themselves as bullet-proof, ‘we don’t need to explain, everyone loves us’.”

“People have not seen [Jacinda Ardern] a control freak before… this reveals the reality. It also acknowledges the fact this is a Cabinet with some mighty weak links, probably more than average.”


More from Stuff:  Beehive scrambled to contain email telling ministers to ‘dismiss’ questions about Covid-19 response

The prime minister’s office now says the email — which was provided to press gallery journalists hours after the Government publicly released hundreds of Cabinet papers — was a “clumsy instruction”.

Stuff can reveal the Beehive asked public servants to delete the email, after it was wrongly sent beyond parliament’s walls.

The email from Rob Carr, a senior ministerial adviser to the prime minister, was sent to the staff of Government ministers and to staff at the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet (DPMC) who had worked on making public the documents.

A spokesman for the prime minister on Sunday said it was an error to send the email to public servants, due to the political messaging it contained, however it was “simply intended to be a heads-up” that the documents were being made public.

Again clearly sent to the staff of Ministers, so the Ministers denying receiving it personally are correct but misleading by major omission.

“[The email] was more about not re-litigating the past, and it shouldn’t have been framed as dismissing … It was more a clumsy instruction.”

Sounds to me more like an embarrassing reveal of PM PR procedures.


Tim Watkins: Gagging Order Is Double Dumb: Disrespecting Public Sacrifice & Damaging Brand Ardern

With much power comes much responsibility. And the government has a phenomenal amount of power right now, in the midst of a pandemic that has seen public money propping up the national economy, parliament on furlough and public officials granted special powers. Which is why any talk of gagging leaves such a bad taste.

…All of which is why the gagging order delivered by the 9th floor to ministers on Friday stands out like a sore, distasteful thumb.

It’s dumb on a range of levels.

Morally – or perhaps constitutionally – the New Zealand public has allowed this government at this time extraordinary powers and deserves at the very least in return full and frank information from cabinet. They deserve respect for the sacrifices made, not dismissal. To tell political staff to “dismiss” the questions of journalists working to keep that public informed is deeply cynical and defensive. It’s bad enough in the normal sweep of events; in these troubled times it’s shameful.

New Zealanders haven’t stayed home and saved lives, loss their livelihoods, skipped funerals and put their lives on hold to have questions about how and why decisions are being made dismissed by those paid to serve them.

Second, it undermines the brand.

For Jacinda Ardern, its about being kind and open and different from all those other politicians who, well, aren’t. Through several crises now she has dissolved Labour’s reputation in Opposition for a lack of competence. But key to her political success is this sense that she is not just a power-monger, but a caring and sensible person who gets voters and can be trusted to act in our best interest, even with extraordinary powers.

So for emails to be coming out from her closest advisors implying her office doesn’t trust voters with full and frank disclosure and that those voters’ confidence in her is being taken for granted – banked and exploited – is damaging. Any way you slice it.

Watkins obviously not impressed.

 

The memo is shocking, but just a small part of the whole mess

The release of the intelligence committee memo may lead to a reckoning for FBI surveillance practices, and the influence of investigations on elections, but if it is to do any real good it should lead to a reckoning of the whole political intelligence mess in the United States, a country that seems to be in a worsening state of disunity. The Russians must be laughing in disbelief.

Wall Street Journal:  A Reckoning for the FBI

The House memo reveals disturbing facts about the misuse of FISA.

The four-page memo released Friday reports disturbing facts about how the FBI and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court appear to have been used to influence the 2016 election and its aftermath.

I think that at this stage, that is highly debatable without more facts – any FBI or Intelligence actions involving campaign conduct could affect an election, but “used to influence” is a contentious claim.

James Comey certainly influenced the election by releasing a letter – see The Comey Letter Probably Cost Clinton The Election – but it’s debatable whether he released the letter to deliberately influence the election, or because he felt he had a duty to the voters to reveal information he thought they should know.

However WSJ does point out some real problems revealed by the memo.

The White House declassified the memo Friday, and you don’t have to be a civil libertarian to be shocked by the details. The memo confirms that the FBI and Justice Department on Oct. 21, 2016 obtained a FISA order to surveil Carter Page, an American citizen who was a relatively minor volunteer adviser to the Trump presidential campaign.

The memo says an “essential” part of the FISA application was the “dossier” assembled by former British spy Christopher Steele and the research firm Fusion GPS that was hired by a law firm attached to the Clinton campaign. The memo adds that former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe told the committee in December 2017 that “no surveillance warrant would have been sought” without the dossier.

This is troubling enough, but the memo also discloses that the FBI failed to inform the FISA court that the Clinton campaign had funded the dossier. The memo says the FBI supported its FISA application by “extensively” citing a September 2016 article in Yahoo News that contained allegations against Mr. Page. But the FBI failed to tell the court that Mr. Steele and Fusion were the main sources for that Yahoo article. In essence the FBI was citing Mr. Steele to corroborate Mr. Steele.

Unlike a normal court, FISA doesn’t have competing pleaders. The FBI and Justice appear ex parte as applicants, and thus the judges depend on candor from both. Yet the FBI never informed the court that Mr. Steele was in effect working for the Clinton campaign.

So the memo does raise serious questions. But after claiming “facts about how the FBI and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court appear to have been used to influence the 2016 election” in it’s opening paragraph it later says:

We don’t know the political motives of the FBI and Justice officials, but the facts are damaging enough.

What the memo says about what the FBI did looks shoddy for sure, but it doesn’t necessarily mean what they did was shady.

As the saying goes, cock-up trumps conspiracy most of the time.

No matter its motives, the FBI became a tool of anti-Trump political actors. This is unacceptable in a democracy and ought to alarm anyone who wants the FBI to be a nonpartisan enforcer of the law.

The FBI was caught between political actors from both sides, plus political interference from a foreign power.

It should be remembered that investigation that led to the Steele dossier was originally funded by a conservative group who opposed Trump, until Democrats took it over.

Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes is doing a service by forcing these facts into the public domain where the American people can examine them, hold people accountable, and then Congress can determine how to prevent them in the future.

Sort of a service – it is a very selective revelation by Nunes. He will have done a real service if this release leads to further releases that give a much more comprehensive picture.

Democrats are howling that the memo, produced by Republican staff, is misleading and leaves out essential details. They are producing their own summary of the evidence, and by all means let’s see that too. President Trump should declassify it promptly, along with Senator Chuck Grassley’s referral for criminal investigation of Mr. Steele.

If all of this is damaging to the reputation of the FBI and Justice Department, then that damage is self-inflicted. We recognize the need for the FBI to sometimes spy on Americans to keep the country safe, but this is a power that should never be abused.

Its apparent misuse during the presidential campaign needs to be fully investigated.

I agree.

Toward that end, the public should see more of the documents that are behind the competing intelligence memos to judge who is telling the truth. Mr. Trump and the White House should consider the remedy of radical transparency.

Is that likely? I doubt it.

The other political misdirection is that the memo is designed to undermine special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into possible Trump collusion with Russia. We doubt Mr. Mueller will be deterred by any of this. The question of FISA abuse is independent of Mr. Mueller’s work, and one that Congress takes up amid a larger debate about surveillance and national security.

Mr. Trump would do well to knock off the tweets lambasting the Mueller probe, and let House and Senate Republicans focus public attention on these FISA abuses.

But Trump is unlikely to stop his tweeting. His attempts at political interference from the highest level in investigations by the FBI should be at least as concerning as FBI misconduct in it’s investigations.