By Tim Cushing
Four years of Trump was more than enough time to weaponize federal agencies against journalists. The administration has routinely condemned critical press outlets as “fake news” and Trump’s fervent embrace of border patrolling made it easier for the DHS and its agencies to abuse their power.
The Constitution doesn’t seem to matter much to those “securing” the nation. The CBP put a bunch of journalists, activists, and immigration lawyers on a watchlist, subjecting them to additional intrusive searches at border crossings and airports. The DHS tried to top this by compiling dossiers on journalists who covered anti-police brutality protests in Oregon, as well as journalists who had published leaked DHS documents.
The assault on the Constitution continues, with another DHS component deciding the protections given to journalists aren’t nearly as important as figuring out who’s leaking government documents.
Immigration and Customs Enforcement investigators issued a subpoena this week demanding BuzzFeed News identify its sources — an extraordinary attempt by the government to interfere with a news outlet acting under the protections of the First Amendment, and a move that the agency’s former chief lambasted as “embarrassing.”[…]
The subpoena, issued on Dec. 1 by an agent with the ICE Office of Professional Responsibility, concerns emails sent to ICE attorneys on a fast-track deportation program and plans to fine certain undocumented immigrants. It demands that BuzzFeed News “provide all documentation including, but not limited to: (1) date of receipt, (2) method of receipt, (3) source of document, and (4) contact information for the source of the document.”
BuzzFeed has refused to comply with this subpoena. It has also apparently ignored the gag order ICE attached to its demand for info. Not that it was much of a gag order. It “requested” BuzzFeed not disclose the contents of the subpoena but, like the subpoena itself, it’s pretty much unenforceable.
A court didn’t issue this request. ICE did. It can write its own subpoenas but it really can’t make anyone comply without getting a court involved. And it seems unlikely ICE will get a court involved because very few courts are going to sign off on obvious First Amendment violations.
But even if it’s useless, it’s still a problem. ICE could try to get courts involved and turn journalists into extensions of internal investigations. It could mass mail subpoenas to as many press outlets as it can, hoping for a hit. The problematic part isn’t how badly it’s being done, but that it’s being done at all.