WASHINGTON — Next month, reporters at Breitbart News will lose their press access to the halls of Congress.
On Tuesday, the standing committee of the US Senate Daily Press Gallery — the body of five reporters from traditional news outlets that accredit media outlets — tabled Breitbart’s application for permanent credentials. The committee declined to extend the news outlet's temporary passes, which expire May 31.
At last month's meeting, the committee raised issues about Breitbart's masthead, which highlighted staffers who have links to outside groups like conservative nonprofit Government Accountability Institute. In a letter delivered to the committee this month, Breitbart CEO Larry Solov said that managing editor Wynton Hall, who has ties to GAI, stepped down in February. That conflicted with the prior masthead that listed Hall's position as of late March. The new letter also said that GAI and Breitbart "are separate and independent companies, with separate boards and management. They have no editorial control over each other."
But committee members were concerned about the strange timing of Hall's exit and the fact that Breitbart is now without a managing editor entirely.
Solov also sought to clear up questions that the committee had about editorial independence from the Mercer family, which owns a stake in the news outlet. The family has been a major Trump booster and has close ties to former Breitbart chief Steve Bannon, currently the White House's chief strategist. Rebekah Mercer, the daughter of hedge fund manager Robert Mercer, has "no editorial control," Solov wrote in the letter.
The committee acknowledged that it wasn't the only entity with lingering questions about Breitbart. A group of Democratic senators recently sent a letter to Bannon about his current connections or contact with the site.
The committee also noted that Bannon's White House financial disclosure included a different date of his separation from Breitbart than Solov had originally indicated.
Also at issue has been Breitbart's controversial office space, which is not zoned for commercial use. Solov had indicated to the committee that the company was searching for a new Washington office, but didn't address the issue in the letter.
Three Breitbart reporters currently have temporary passes, and a fourth applied for one on Tuesday morning. But in tabling the application, the committee declined to extend temporary passes for Breitbart beyond their May 31 expiration date.
"The whole thing suggests to me they are not ready for a credential," one committee member said during the meeting. He added that he couldn't recall devoting this much time to any applicant, and that the committee was acting in good faith throughout the process.
News organizations that want permanent access to the Capitol must go through the rather archaic approval process. Outlets are asked by the committee to reveal financial and ownership information to ensure that the news outlet isn’t tied to any special interest group that might be lobbying within the halls of Congress.
Winning press passes is an important step for any new Washington outlet. The hard passes help reporters get into other events around town, and they are furthermore seen as the first step toward eventually joining the White House Correspondents’ Association, where member news organizations send reporters to travel with the president on domestic and foreign trips. Tuesday's decision makes Breitbart's potential entry into the WHCA unlikely for now.
Committee members said Breitbart could seek to clarify the committee's questions and then reapply.
"Breitbart News is unequivocally entitled to permanent Senate Press Gallery credentials and is determined to secure them," Breitbart spokesperson Chad Wilkinson said in a statement.
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