GRASSLEY ALUMS SQUEEZE DOJ OVER SILENCE ON AL JAZEERA’S FARA OBLIGATIONS: A whistleblower and oversight advocacy group formed by former staffers to Senate Judiciary ranking member Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) launched a new push over the weekend for documents from the Justice Department relating to the department’s reported letter of determination that Qatar-based Al Jazeera’s digital news outlet AJ+ is required to register as a foreign agent.
— In a letter to the department over the weekend the group, called Empower Oversight Whistleblowers & Research, noted that members of Congress have been pushing since 2018 for Al Jazeera, which receives funding from the Qatari government, to register under FARA. The group claimed that three letters on the issue from lawmakers to the department — sent over three years and multiple administrations — have gone unanswered, even after DOJ reportedly informed Al Jazeera of its obligations to register AJ+ in 2020 .
— “As of today, the Justice Department appears to have been entirely unresponsive to the congressional oversight letters on this issue,” the group wrote in its FOIA request, which came days before Bidenwelcomed the Qatari emir to the White House this afternoon. “The public has a right to know why Justice Department has failed to enforce FARA in this instance and failed to be responsive to congressional oversight on this topic.” The group is asking for documents relating to DOJ’s processing and response to “to all Congressional correspondence regarding Al Jazeera or any of its affiliates and FARA,” including the three letters they reference, two of which Grassley helped spearhead.
— The group is also asking for the department’s communications regarding FARA and Al Jazeera and its affiliates, or between DOJ and the media network’s or Qatar’s representatives, including the letter of determination. In that letter, DOJ counterintelligence chief Jay Brattwrote that “journalism designed to influence American perceptions of a domestic policy issue or a foreign nation’s activities or its leadership qualifies as ‘political activities’ under the statutory definition,” according to The New York Times. The Justice Department declined to comment.
— Al Jazeera did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but has previously referred to calls for it to register as “baseless.” In response to the Times report detailing DOJ’s letter of determination, Al Jazeera “strongly condemned” the order, according to an article on its site , and accused its regional foe, the United Arab Emirates, of demanding the order in return for agreeing to normalize relations with Israel. The UAE denied the accusation, though the country’s lobbyistshad previously made the argument that Al Jazeera should be required to register similar to media outlets owned and controlled by China, Russia and Turkey.