WaPo publisher: There's something rotten in the state of Biden's DoJ

AP Photo/Andrew Harnik

Meet the new boss, same as worse than the old bossThe Washington Post protested Donald Trump’s hostile treatment of the media by adopting a black banner crying “Democracy dies in darkness.” It’s not getting any lighter under Joe Biden, publisher Fred Ryan complained last night. In fact, Ryan accused Biden’s Department of Justice of doubling down its attacks on media, calling it “an unprecedented assault on American news organizations”:

During the final days of the Trump administration, the attorney general used extraordinary measures to obtain subpoenas to secretly seize records of reporters at three leading U.S. news organizations. After this was reported last month, President Biden rightly decried this attack on the First Amendment, calling it “simply, simply wrong” and assuring Americans that it would not happen in his administration.

Unfortunately, new revelations suggest that the Biden Justice Department not only allowed these disturbing intrusions to continue — it intensified the government‘s attack on First Amendment rights before finally backing down in the face of reporting about its conduct.

After Biden took office, the department continued to pursue subpoenas for reporters’ email logs issued to Google, which operates the New York Times’ email systems, and it obtained a gag order compelling a Times attorney to keep silent about the fact that federal authorities were seeking to seize his colleagues’ records. Later, when the Justice Department broadened the number of those permitted to know about the effort, it barred Times executives from discussing the legal battle with the Times newsroom, including the paper’s top editor.

This escalation, on Biden’s watch, represents an unprecedented assault on American news organizations and their efforts to inform the public about government wrongdoing.

This wasn’t just about the subpoena for reader data from USA Today, which got made public last week. (That got withdrawn over the weekend as well.) Ryan more specifically points to a Biden administration effort to gag the New York Times from reporting or even publicly objecting to a DoJ attempt to seize records from four of its reporters. The Biden White House claimed it had no knowledge of that effort when challenged about it on Saturday:

The Biden administration said on Saturday that no one at the White House had been aware that the Justice Department was seeking to seize the email data of four New York Times reporters and had obtained a gag order in March barring a handful of newspaper executives who knew about the fight from discussing it.

The disavowal came one day after a court lifted the gag order, which permitted a Times lawyer to disclose the department’s effort to obtain email logs from Google, which operates the Times’s email system. It had begun in the last days of the Trump administration and continued until Wednesday, when the Biden Justice Department asked a judge to quash the matter without having obtained the data about who had been in contact with the reporters.

“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,” Jen Psaki, a White House spokeswoman, said in a statement.

March, by the way, had Merrick Garland fully in charge of the DoJ as Attorney General. At one time, Garland was a darling of the Left — and the media — after getting shut out for consideration by the Senate as a Supreme Court nominee. Oddly, one has to drill down quite far into the NYT story to run across Garland’s name, although it’s pretty damning when it does appear:

Theodore J. Boutrous Jr., an outside lawyer for The Times, said that in a meeting on April 6, Gregg Maisel, the head of the national security division in the U.S. attorney’s office in Washington, told The Times’s legal team that prosecutors had obtained approval for the order, which he described as reasonable, and that Biden officials had been apprised of the matter.

“When we said that we felt this decision was not consistent with the guidelines, the prosecutors bristled at that,” Mr. Boutrous said.

That meeting occurred about three weeks after Attorney General Merrick B. Garland took office, and about two months before the Justice Department asked a judge to quash the order to Google.

So it appears that Garland gave the order — or at least the okay — on this increase in darkness to which the Post objects. How many times does Ryan mention Garland? Zero. Ryan mentions Trump five times in his cri de coeur, although Biden gets ten. Garland’s omission in the Post, and near-omission in the NYT, seems very odd considering the complaints about a DoJ war on reporters under Garland’s watch. It certainly looks like something is rotten not just in the DoJ, not just in the Biden administration, but perhaps the media as well.