Trump administration pushes to stop ‘biggest ever’ federal crackdown on free speech

The Trump administration on Friday pushed to stop “biggest Ever” federal efforts to crack down on free expression, arguing that the crackdown violates a core principle of the First Amendment.

In a letter to the Department of Justice (DOJ) dated April 27, Deputy Assistant Attorney General Steven M. Koonin and Acting Assistant Attorney Mark J. Lutz argued that the DOJ was misusing its authority under the Free Speech Clause to “exercise arbitrary and capricious powers” and threatened legal action if the DOJ fails to “implement its statutory and constitutional obligations to protect free expression and the free exercise of religion.”

The letter came amid a growing wave of threats to the free speech rights of conservatives in the Trump administration, which include efforts to shutter conservative groups like Breitbart News and the American Freedom Defense Initiative (AFDI), as well as push for more restrictions on free exercise, according to sources familiar with the matter.

It comes just a few days after the administration announced that it was expanding a crackdown on conservative news organizations by making them subject to the same restrictions as other news organizations.

On Friday, the White House announced a raft of new policies targeting conservatives, including the creation of a National Security Council task force on the “threat of violent extremism,” a review of the federal prison system, and the reinstatement of an executive order aimed at preventing “violent extremism” on college campuses.

Trump has made the threats to free speech a centerpiece of his presidency, and he has repeatedly used executive orders to target conservative news outlets.

He has also pushed for the creation and expansion of the Department for Justice (DoJ), which he has argued is necessary to deal with the threat of violent extremists.

Koonin, in his letter, wrote that the DoJ “has a unique obligation to protect the First and Second Amendments in all circumstances, including those in which the government has asserted regulatory power or otherwise interfered with freedom of expression, even where those activities are necessary to protect national security.”

“There is no legitimate, lawful reason to target or curtail a news organization’s ability to operate lawfully or effectively in the marketplace of ideas,” Koonini wrote.

“The DOJ should exercise its authority to protect a wide range of speech and ideas at the nexus of the free and open internet,” he wrote.

The letter also claimed that the government had been violating the First, Fourth, and Fifth Amendments to free expression by conducting “a sweeping and unnecessary, costly, and ineffective prosecution of numerous news organizations and online outlets.”

The DoJ, Koonins letter said, has the power to “require” news organizations to provide “fair and balanced news coverage,” but that the actions taken by the DOJ “are intended to chill speech that is contrary to the government’s policy priorities.”

“We believe that the First amendment and free speech guarantee is fundamental to the First Republic, and we stand ready to defend it in court,” the letter said.

Koons letter to DOJ on Trump administration threats to freedom of speech follows Trump administration calls to shutter Breitbart News, the American Free Press, and AFDI

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