Fast forward to Friday, when—to the consternation of many journalists—Biden’s Justice Department defended the Trump-era move against the Post as, in Barrett’s words, “an investigative step of last resort that was not taken lightly.” We do not yet know of any instances of Biden himself going after journalists’ sources. But he hasn’t pledged explicitly that he won’t, either—and, in its first weeks in office, his administration continued the Trump-era push to extradite and prosecute Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks founder, under the Espionage Act, drawing blowback from a coalition of press-freedom groups who say that the charges against Assange threaten to criminalize various routine acts of journalism. As the Freedom of the Press Foundation noted in January, after Biden was inaugurated, he had “already been lauded for striking a new tone” with the press. “But refraining from insulting and delegitimizing reporters on a daily basis is an incredibly low bar. It is by the actions of its Justice Department and intelligence agencies that the Biden administration should ultimately be judged.”
In three separate letters dated May 3 and addressed to Post reporters Ellen Nakashima and Greg Miller, and former Post reporter Adam Entous, the Justice Department wrote they were “hereby notified that pursuant to legal process the United States Department of Justice received toll records associated with the following telephone numbers for the period from April 15, 2017 to July 31, 2017.” The letters listed work, home or cellphone numbers covering that three-and-a-half-month period.
Cameron Barr, The Post’s acting executive editor, said: “We are deeply troubled by this use of government power to seek access to the communications of journalists. The Department of Justice should immediately make clear its reasons for this intrusion into the activities of reporters doing their jobs, an activity protected under the First Amendment.”
I asked some of the country’s leading First Amendment law experts for their views about the agreement Cohen was told to sign. Their comments are published in full below. They are almost uniform in decrying the condition placed on Cohen by the Bureau of Prisons, an agency under William Barr’s Justice Department.