Biden Justice Dept. May Be More Threatening than Trump's, Washington Post CEO Says

The Washington Post's publisher and CEO warned that the Biden administration's Justice Department (DOJ) is accelerating many of the "egregious" First Amendment infringements seen under former President Donald Trump.

Fred Ryan, who is also the former president of Politico, wrote a Sunday op-ed that blasted the Biden for "doubling down" and even amplifying his predecessor's "unprecedented assault on American news organizations." Ryan's criticism comes just days after the Post and The New York Times revealed that the Biden DOJ was secretly obtaining reporters' records during leak investigations, as well as placing a gag order on Times executives to prevent public discussion of the matter.

President Joe Biden publicly vowed last month to end the "simply, simply wrong" investigative tactic, but Ryan said Sunday there are massive inconsistencies between the White House's words and the DOJ's assaults on the press.

"The inconsistency between presidential words and Justice Department deeds dictates the need for full accountability and transparency regarding the actions taken by the exiting Trump Justice Department and those of the incoming Biden administration. A full accounting should be produced and released for the American public to see," Ryan wrote.

"Anything less would be simply, simply wrong," Ryan added, using Biden's own words.

Numerous former Republican and Democratic White House attorneys have blasted U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland's allegedly secretive and evasive behavior, which they say has worsened former AG William Barr's efforts to reduce federal government transparency.

Ryan repeatedly expressed his concern that "courageous government employees" will stop speaking to reporters even if they know their agency has become corrupt, under the guise of national security or a need for secrecy. Ryan also highlighted the government leaks to reporters that exposed the racist Tuskegee Institute experiments and secret CIA-run prisons set up for illegal interrogation of terrorism suspects abroad.

Now, Ryan said, the Biden DOJ's continuing efforts to obtain reporters' information will prevent government accountability. He went on to suggest that legislation could prevent future gag orders and surreptitious attacks on First Amendment rights.

"Trump's actions, and the expansion upon them during the Biden administration, pose a grave threat to our ability as a nation to keep powerful officials in check," Ryan wrote. "With the revelation that the Justice Department has secretly obtained phone and email records at multiple news organizations to sniff out the identities of journalists' sources, government employees who would otherwise come forward to reveal malfeasance are more likely to fear exposure and retaliation, and therefore to stay silent."

White House press secretary Jen Psaki announced last week that the DOJ "will not seek compulsory legal process in leak investigations to obtain source information from the media doing their jobs." But Ryan remains skeptical that this will be the case without passage of protective legislation.

"While this is an encouraging step, it does not guarantee that the Biden administration — or future administrations — will not resume these intrusive tactics," Ryan 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."

Newsweek reached out to the Justice Department Monday morning for comment but did not hear back before publication.

Merrick Garland
Federal Judge Merrick Garland delivers remarks on January 7 after being nominated for U.S. attorney general by President-elect Joe Biden. Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty