By MICHAEL BIESECKER, The Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — Security camera footage released Tuesday undermines Trump administration claims that a reporter for The Associated Press tried to force her way into the Environmental Protection Agency headquarters to cover a summit last year on drinking water contaminants.
Video obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request shows a security guard grab AP reporter Ellen Knickmeyer by the shoulders on May 22 and shove her out of the agency’s lobby.
Then-EPA spokesman Jahan Wilcox subsequently claimed Knickmeyer was removed after she “proceeded to push through the security entrance,” but after AP objected he revised his statement to say she refused to leave when requested.
The video does not show Knickmeyer physically resisting the guards or trying to push through the barrier.
EPA officials later personally apologized to Knickmeyer for the agency’s handling of the incident.
EPA spokesman John Konkus said Tuesday that officials had “relied on the security personnel to tell us what happened.”
AP, CNN and E&E News, which covers energy and environmental issues, were initially barred from attending what had been billed as a national summit on dangerous chemicals that have been found in some water systems. Some 200 people attended, including representatives of states, tribes and the chemical industry and environmentalists. A handful of reporters from other media organizations were also allowed into the meeting room, which had several empty seats.
Then-EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt was set to speak at the event, which was listed on his public schedule and described as being open to the press on a federal daybook of events.
Knickmeyer had called EPA’s press office the day before and was told by Wilcox that it was invitation-only and there was no room for her. She showed up anyway, and was told by a security guard that she couldn’t enter because she was not on the approved list. She said she asked to speak to a representative from the press office, was refused and told to get out.
Knickmeyer said she took out her phone to record what was happening as a security guard told her “we can make you get out,” but put it away when guards tried to seize it. The video released Tuesday shows a security guard then grab Knickmeyer’s shoulders and shove her out the door.
Part of the interaction is obscured by a metal detector at the entrance.
At the time of the incident, AP Executive Editor Sally Buzbee said in a statement, “The Environmental Protection Agency’s selective barring of news organizations, including the AP, from covering today’s meeting is alarming and a direct threat to the public’s right to know about what is happening inside their government. It is particularly distressing that any journalist trying to cover an event in the public interest would be forcibly removed.”
Pruitt had a contentious relationship with the media. The agency sought to bar the AP and some other news organizations from some of Pruitt’s events and publicly assailed a reporter for “yellow journalism” following AP reports from toxic waste sites that flooded during Hurricane Harvey.
Pruitt resigned in July amid controversies, including outsized spending on his security detail and living in a bargain-priced Capitol Hill condo owned by an energy-industry lobbyist.
Wilcox, a longtime Republican media operative, left EPA days after Pruitt’s departure.