By Lee Williams
My colleague John Crump at Ammoland News deserves praise for his coverage of the AutoKeyCard case, in which the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives charged Matthew Hoover and Justin Ervin with illegally selling machinegun auto sears and conspiracy.
Crump reported about all aspects of the complex case and his coverage was exemplary. It was chock full of nuance and context, which can be difficult with any legal case, especially the federal variety. Crump asked tough questions and he held those in positions of power accountable, which is what journalists are supposed to do.
The result: there was little Crump’s readers did not know about the case.
The prosecutor, Assistant U. S. Attorney Laura Cofer Taylor, didn’t appreciate Crump’s reporting. Still, both Hoover and Ervin were convicted last April, so you’d think she would have been somewhat mollified. You’d be dead wrong.
According to court documents, one of the defendants, Hoover, gave Crump a copy of his presentence investigation report, or PSR, and suggested that Crump report on the contents. As a defendant, the document was Hoover’s to give to whomever he wanted.
When AUSA Taylor heard about it (through monitoring Hoover’s jailhouse phone calls), she went bonkers…literally. Her sole focus has become stopping Crump, and she forgot all about things like the First Amendment. Keep in mind, as an Assistant U.S. Attorney, Taylor swore an oath to support and defend the Constitution and to “bear true faith and allegiance to the same.”
AUSA Taylor immediately fired off a motion asking the court to stop Crump for publishing the PSR.
“WHEREFORE, the government requests that this Court issue an order reiterating that the PSRs are non-public documents and may not be disseminated beyond court personnel, the defense teams, and the U.S. Attorney’s Office, and order that any individuals who possess a copy of the PSR without authority (including Crump, Hughes, and Erica Hoover) destroy it and confirm its destruction in writing, and any other relief this Court deems necessary to protect the sentencing process in this case,” Taylor’s motion states.
Legally, what Taylor is seeking from the court is known as prior restraint, asking a judge to suppress the publication of a story. It’s censorship, pure and simple, but it occurs before a word is ever uttered or printed. The First Amendment places severe limits on the government’s ability to censor any publication because it violates our right to free speech. Over the years, the courts have overwhelmingly rejected requests from the government to gag reporters.
Besides, what Crump sought to publish was a simple court document, part of a public trial. It wasn’t the nuclear codes. It wasn’t classified and it contained zero state secrets.
Crump’s legal team pointed out in their response to Taylor’s lunacy that she asked the court to restrain Crump’s speech without even “providing any notice to the parties to be bound or an opportunity to be heard.”
“To call the government’s request untethered to American constitutional law would be putting it mildly,” their response states.
In her motion, Taylor refers to Crump as a “YouTube Personality.” Unfortunately, we’ve seen this type of bad behavior from government officials before. They imply that someone isn’t a member of the press, and therefore not subject to the protections normally awarded to “real” reporters. This is bunk, and Taylor and her boss should be ashamed.
Nowadays, how do you even define who is or isn’t a journalist? Does a reporter working at a weekly newspaper whose stories are read by a few hundred people qualify? How about a digital reporter working for a website like Ammoland News whose stories are seen by hundreds of thousands of people?
It appears Taylor wants to decide who qualifies as a member of the press. Maybe she’ll even create press credentials for them, which she can revoke if she doesn’t like their stories.
You can see where this is going. Taylor doesn’t like a free press. She wants to be in charge what can and can’t be published. She wants reporters who don’t dare question her authority. Unfortunately, questioning authority is what good reporters are supposed to do.
I’ve never spoken to AUSA Taylor. She didn’t return calls or emails sent Wednesday evening, but I know more than a few folks who have worked as federal prosecutors. Most wanted a lucrative partnership at a private law firm or a judgeship once they’d prosecuted cases for a few years. I hope AUSA Taylor knows that the path toward a corner office or a black robe can be difficult for those who so cravenly violate someone’s constitutional rights – especially when they’re not even a defendant in the case.
Thomas Jefferson said, “Our liberty depends on freedom of the press, and that cannot be limited without being lost.”
AUSA Taylor has asked the court to restrain Crump’s press freedoms, and that is a massive infringement of his constitutional rights. At the very least, I hope she learns a valuable lesson from all of this.
Eric Friday, general counsel for Florida Carry, Inc., put it simply: “If she’s not doing anything wrong, what is she trying to hide?”
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This story is part of the Second Amendment Foundation’s Investigative Journalism Project and is published here with their permission.