Democrat President Joe Biden sparked controversy on Friday with remarks that he made when asked whether he would prevent his Department of Justice from seizing the records of reporters.
“Would you prevent your Justice Department from doing that?” CNN’s Kaitlan Collins asked Biden in reference to reporters who had their phone records and emails collected by the U.S. government.
Biden responded by calling it “absolutely, positively wrong.”
“It’s simply, simply wrong,” Biden said.
When asked if he would allow his Justice Department to collect reporter’s records, Biden responded, “I will not let that happen.”
“It’s simply, simply wrong. I will not let that happen,” President Biden tells me about the Justice Department seizing the records of reporters. pic.twitter.com/bRL88NssMr
— Kaitlan Collins (@kaitlancollins) May 21, 2021
However, journalists and political commentators quickly noted problems with the remarks that Biden had made.
Journalist Yashar Ali highlighted Biden’s previous remarks about not interfering with the work that the Justice Department does.
“Great!” Ali wrote. “But I have a question, how can he promise this definitively while also promising to not interfere?”
But I have a question, how can he promise this definitively while also promising to not interfere? https://t.co/BB71fHJqJV
— Yashar Ali 🐘 (@yashar) May 21, 2021
Political commentator Mike Cernovich took a different angle in responding to Biden’s remarks, writing: “President Biden admits that he personally directs DOJ actions and investigations, which is a violation of longstanding democratic norms re: DOJ’s independence.”
President Biden admits that he personally directs DOJ actions and investigations, which is a violation of longstanding democratic norms re: DOJ’s independence.pic.twitter.com/g5F9vxPK3X
— Mike Cernovich (@Cernovich) May 21, 2021
Others commentators responded with more wait-and-see reaction and wanted to wait until later before making any judgements, while some took Biden’s comments at face value and declared it a win for the media.
We’ll see https://t.co/e3nK0fiP9T
— Jack Gillum (@jackgillum) May 21, 2021
AG Garland over to you… https://t.co/jVt8Y7UTR1
— Evan Pérez (@evanperez) May 21, 2021
Similar to how he joked about running a reporter over when asked about the Israel-Hamas conflict, Biden joked about seizing the phone records of reporters before a serious answer. We’ll see about this vow — when he was Veep, Obama’s DOJ seized journalist records (as did Trump’s). https://t.co/yO2yk7bxMD
— Jerry Dunleavy (@JerryDunleavy) May 21, 2021
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki was asked last week about press freedom, including a question about Julian Assange.
Here’s the exchange that Psaki had with the reporter:
REPORTER: Yes, I do. I’d like to ask about a couple of press freedom issues. On Friday, we learned that the Justice Department, last year, seized the phone records of several Washington Post journalists. The Biden Justice Department defended this, saying that it was the sources they were after, not the reporters.
But there are some press freedom advocates who are pretty concerned about that defense. Trevor Timm of the Freedom of the Press Foundation said that the Biden Justice Department gave a “disturbing defense” of the practice. Bruce Brown, the Executive Director of The Reporters for Freedom of the Press said that it “raises serious First Amendment concerns.”
Do you, as the government’s top press officer, have concerns about reporters’ records being taken, including in this instance?
PSAKI: Well, given this was an action taken by the last administration, and the Department of Justice who oversees, obviously, our legal actions has already spoken to it, I’m not going to have anything additional to add.
REPORTER: The second part on press freedom is — this marked — marks International Press Freedom Day, which was celebrated on Twitter by the secretary of state and the vice president —
REPORTER: — who wrote the “free press is critical to democracy.”
The whistleblower Edward Snowden responded by writing out, “This would be more persuasive if the White House [wasn’t] aggressively seeking a 175-year sentence for [a] publisher of award-winning journalism…” He’s referring to WikiLeaks publisher, Julian Assange.
The Obama-Biden administration was infamous for taking a heavy hand toward reporters and leaks, including taking the Associated Press’ call records and calling a Fox reporter a “possible conspirator.” But the Obama Justice Department decided not to prosecute Assange for fear of setting a precedent that could be used to prosecute journalists dealing with classified information.
In the name of press freedom, will President Biden be intervening in the Assange case to stop the prosecution? Or will he be allowing the Justice Department and the courts to sort this out?
PSAKI: Well, in the name of independent justice, we will allow the Justice Department — encourage the Justice Department to continue to be an independent Justice Department — which I know is different from what we saw over the last four years, so it feels funny to some people.
This article has been expanded after publication to include additional information.
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