Trump impeachment trial: Senator voices concern over ‘draconian’ restrictions on journalists
Rules hindering press freedom are a 'disservice to the public', says Martin Heinrich
Senator Martin Heinrich has voiced his “extreme concern and discomfort” about restrictions placed on members of the press covering the impeachment trial of Donald Trump, which reporters say has already inhibited their ability to question senators.
In the letter addressed to Senate sergeant-at-arms Michael Stenger, who imposed the new security requirements, Mr Heinrich said: “To place limitations on the press is to place limitations on the American people’s ability to learn about the character and conduct of their elected leaders.”
“Preventing credentialed reporters from moving freely around the capitol and confining them to roped-off areas limits their ability to interview lawmakers about the impeachment proceedings,” he wrote. “These restrictions are antithetical to a free press, good governance, and the ability of the public to be fully informed about what we as elected leaders do in their name.”
When the impeachment trial began formally last week, reporters on Capitol Hill were quick to call the restrictions an impediment to the press freedoms guaranteed in the First Amendment.
A stark contrast to the wide-ranging, direct access to politicians typically granted to reporters in the capitol, the new decorum includes a magnetometer in the Senate press gallery and bans on electronics in the chamber. Moreover, journalists and photographers have been restrained to press pens, limiting their ability to question senators freely.
During floor remarks on Tuesday afternoon, Senate minority leader Charles Schumer of New York harshly criticised the restrictions, adding that while some may not want the events of the trial to become public, “we do”.
“The press is here to inform the American people about these pivotal events in American history,” Mr Schumer said.
Some reporters and politicians have spoken out more formally, including Los Angeles Times congressional reporter Sarah Wire, who chairs the Standing Committee of Correspondents. In a letter to Senate leaders last week, she decried the Capitol Hill restrictions, which, she said, “exceed those put in place during the State of the Union, Inauguration Day or even during the Clinton impeachment trial 20 years ago”.
On Thursday, Ms Wire said a lack of clarity around the rules had generated confusion and ire among those covering the impeachment trial.
Alana Abramson, who covers congress for Time, tweeted on Tuesday: “In today’s press restriction, I wasn’t allowed to get off the elevator to go the second floor (off the floor of the Senate) during a recess where we could try to grab Senators.” Emma Dumain, a McClatchy reporter, tweeted last week that a capitol police officer stopped her in the middle of an interview with a senator and instructed her to “step behind a rope in order to continue to the conversation”.
“This is how ludicrous these restrictions are,” she added.
In his letter, Mr Heinrich called the rules imposed on the capitol press corps “draconian” and said they should be promptly modified in a way “that better balances access and security”. He did not specify how the rules should be changed.
“Hindering a free and open press is a disservice to the public, and further undermines a fair process that is reflective of our American values,” Mr Heinrich added.
Last week, senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, the top Democrat on the Rules Committee, called the restrictions “a big mistake” while speaking to reporters after the Democratic presidential debate in Des Moines, Iowa. She reiterated her concerns on Tuesday, telling reporters that the rules were “outrageous”.
“This talk of closed-door sessions and keeping things away from the press – the way they have all these crazy rules and pins and laminated cards about not touching people,” she said. “I just think that it’s outrageous and I’ve made that very clear.”
The Washington Post