President Joe Biden is being criticized by the press for a recent “gag order” preventing anyone who knows about the case in question from speaking. Biden is being blasted as undermining the freedom of the press.
This story began as an effort from the Trump administration to investigate leaks to journalists. But now it has been “gagged” so that questions are abounding.
David McCraw, a lawyer for The New York Times, called the gag order an “unprecedented” step according to a report in The Times. That publication, including the top editors and reporters, was prohibited from having any discussion of the probe.
The Justice Department asked for email logs from Google, which operates the email system at the newspaper. But Google would not disclose the information.
Executive Editor Dean Baquet said, “Clearly, Google did the right thing, but it should never have come to this. The Justice Department relentlessly pursued the identity of sources for coverage that was clearly in the public interest in the final 15 days of the Trump administration. And the Biden administration continued to pursue it. As I said before, it profoundly undermines press freedom.”
The Justice Department prosecutors obtained a court order for The Times to turn over records on January 5. The department maintained at that time that secrecy was needed because, “There is reason to believe that notification of the existence of this order will seriously jeopardize the ongoing investigation, including by giving targets an opportunity to destroy or tamper with evidence.”
It seems that the Justice Department was looking for information on the source of an April 2017 article on James Comey, the former FBI Director. They wanted to know more about his actions surrounding the 2016 presidential campaign.
When The Times vowed to take the issue into open court last week, the gag order was lifted.
The Washington Post editor, Fred Ryan, blasted President Joe Biden’s Justice Department for the gag order in a Sunday opinion article.
“This escalation, on Biden’s watch, represents an unprecedented assault on American news organizations and their efforts to inform the public about government wrongdoing,” he wrote.
“There must be clear and enduring safeguards to ensure that this brazen infringement of the First Amendment rights of all Americans is never repeated,” Ryan said.
Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, tried to distance the White House from the gag order.
“As appropriate given the independence of the Justice Department in specific criminal cases, no one at the White House was aware of the gag order until Friday night,” Psaki said.
“While the White House does not intervene in criminal investigations, the issuing of subpoenas for the records of reporters in leak investigations is not consistent with the President’s policy direction to the Department, and the Department of Justice has reconfirmed it will not be used moving forward,” she said.
And then a Justice Department spokesperson, Anthony Coley, said that a new policy is now in place.
“Going forward, consistent with the president’s direction, this Department of Justice — in a change to its longstanding practice — will not seek compulsory legal process in leak investigations to obtain source information from members of the news media doing their jobs,” Coley said.
“The department strongly values a free press, protecting First Amendment values and is committed to taking all appropriate steps to ensure the independence of journalists,” he said according to The Times.
Patrick Toomey, a senior staff lawyer at the American Civil Liberties Union, criticized the Justice Department.
“Google did the right thing by resisting the request and fighting to inform The New York Times of the government’s demands for this sensitive information,” he said. “The Biden administration needs to rein in the Justice Department and work with Congress to protect journalists and a free press.”