What? A Supreme Court ruling?
Despite months of lead time, administration officials appeared to lack their usual talking points when scrambling to respond to Thursday’s landmark Supreme Court decision on Guantanamo.
The ruling affirmed the rights of detainees to challenge their imprisonment — contrary to seven years of assertions by Pentagon and Justice Department officials.
This time, officials with both agencies were reluctant to weigh in.
A usually chatty Pentagon spokesman in charge of speaking about Guantanamo remained mum, taping a note on the back on his desk chair listing the phone numbers of Justice Department officials reporters should call instead.
Justice Department media representatives set up a briefing with department lawyers, but insisted the question-and-answer session be off-the-record. They acknowledged it was an unusual demand, but said they couldn’t discuss the decision because they were still reviewing it.
But that meant that nothing from the briefing could be used — not even comments from the obligatory nameless Justice Department officials who usually appear in such stories. Note to readers: You didn’t miss much.
That’s because Associated Press reporter Matt Apuzzo quickly objected, saying the off-the-record rule "does nothing to help anybody understand anything."
When he said he would consider the discussion on the record, he was told he should get off the call. Apuzzo refused, saying "there’s just no reason for this to be an off-the-record call." A conference call mute button prevented 40 other reporters from chiming in.
But Justice Department officials wouldn’t budge and the call was cut short. A follow-up call was hastily rescheduled with a warning: "If you are not able to accept the off-the-record ground rules, please do not join the call."
Without explanation, officials appeared to relent by issuing a terse statement — eight hours after the ruling came down.
No word on when they'll be taking questions.
— Marisa Taylor and Nancy A. Youssef