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.”
The Department of Homeland Security violated the First Amendment when it allegedly tracked and interrogated five journalists between 2018 and 2019, the American Civil Liberties Union said in a lawsuit filed Wednesday. The lawsuit includes accounts by five freelance photojournalists, all of whom are US citizens and were stopped by Customs and Border Protection, an agency within DHS, while traveling to and from Mexico between November 2018 and January 2019.
The Trump administration’s renewed pursuit of leakers has alarmed First Amendment advocates, who say the investigations can have a chilling effect on government employees who may choose to stay silent rather than alert journalists to wrongdoing.
A U.S. judge Tuesday dismissed an American journalist’s lawsuit challenging his alleged placement on a “kill list” by U.S. authorities in Syria, after the Trump administration invoked the “state secrets” privilege to withhold sensitive national security information.