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White House Press Sec Relied on Non-Existent Written Statement to Suspend Playboy Reporter


Attorneys for the Justice Department on Wednesday filed documents informing the court that there is no written statement by the Secret Service agent who intervened during the Rose Garden spat between Playboy reporter Brian Karem and Sebastian Gorka.

Following Tuesday’s hearing regarding the constitutionality of Karem’s suspension, U.S. District Judge Rudolph Contreras ordered the government to provide him any statement made by the Secret Service agent on July 11.

“Defendants respectfully inform the Court that there is no written statement by the Secret Service agent who intervened and spoke to Mr. Karem during the July 11, 2019 incident,” DOJ attorneys responded Wednesday, seemingly contradicting one of the factors White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham cited in her Aug. 16 letter on the “unacceptable and disruptive” Karem’s suspension. “In the interest of transparency, Defendants further inform the Court that there are notes taken by an attorney in the Office of White House Counsel from an interview with the agent, but Defendants understand that this Court’s order does not apply to such notes.”

Karem was informed on Aug. 2 that he would be suspended as of the following Monday afternoon (Aug. 5). There was no mention of a Secret Service agent statement in Grisham’s Aug. 2 letter explaining the preliminary suspension decision.

Karem attorney Ted Boutrous pushed back on the suspension on Aug. 9, saying “We still lack critical information that remains in your possession and that you have refused to disclose. For example, you have advised that you intend to rely on a witness statement you obtained from a Secret Service official who observed the events at issue, yet you have refused to give us the full statement, or even to disclose his identity. Instead, you read aloud to us what appeared to be a selected excerpt from the statement.”

Boutrous then asked for the full statement of the Secret Service official.

In Aug. 16, in the decision confirming Karem’s suspension, Grisham stated that Karem’s suspension was based, in part, on the observations of the intervening Secret Service agent, publicly available videos of the encounter between Karem and Gorka, and Karem’s responses to being suspended. Here’s what Grisham said she relied on:

In a footnote, Grisham said that Boutrous’ “speculation” that the Secret Service agent’s account might have been able to clear Karem of wrongdoing was “factually incorrect”[ensuing emphasis ours].

I have relied on the Secret Service agent’s statement only for the point that the agent approached Mr. Karem because he grew concerned […] that a physical altercation might break out and for the agent’s recollection of what he said to Mr. Karem,” Grisham said.

According to Grisham, the Secret Service agent who witnessed Karem’s conduct first-hand perceived the reporter’s behavior as posing a security risk.

“The objective fact is that Mr. Karem’s words elicited a predictable response and that combination of events prompted a Secret Service agent to intervene due to a perceived risk of a physical altercation,” Grisham wrote.

Grisham’s decision also addressed Karem’s claim that the White House failed to conduct a “reasonable investigation” before reaching a decision. She denied that and cited an interview of the Secret Service agent.

“There was no need for an investigation…because Karem’s words and conduct were caught on multiple videos from several different angles,” Grisham said. “Where there was one interaction that was potentially relevant but could not be hard on any of the videos – the Secret Service agent’s interaction with Mr. Karem – the Secret Service agent was interviewed. Mr. Karem has not disputed the Secret Service agent’s observations and recollection.”

It’s not clear when that interview occurred, but the DOJ said an attorney in the Office of White House Counsel took notes of it.

Grisham, stating her reliance on the Secret Service agent’s statement only for it to be revealed that a written statement responsive to the judge’s order doesn’t exist, was derided by legal experts.

National security attorney Bradley P. Moss noted that the incident called back to Grisham’s predecessor, Sarah Huckabee Sanders.

“What a shock. Like [Huckabee Sanders] before her, [Grisham] issued a bald faced lie that had to be walked back in a legal proceeding when people with actual professionalism and integrity get involved in representing the government,” Moss said.

Karem himself weighed in on the DOJ’s admission tweeting, “In a rare occasion I seem to be at a loss for words.”

DOJ Court Documents by Law&Crime on Scribd

Grisham Decision 08-16-19 by Law&Crime on Scribd

Editor’s note: This story was updated after publication for clarity.

[Image via SAUL LOEB/AFP/Getty Images]

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Jerry Lambe is a journalist at Law&Crime. He is a graduate of Georgetown University and New York Law School and previously worked in financial securities compliance and Civil Rights employment law.