The New York Times reported that the department hunted for leakers behind the distribution of classified information early in the Trump administration.
Rep. Adam Schiff, chair of the House Intelligence Committee, called for an inspector general investigation of the Trump Justice Department on Thursday after a report said that his phone records, along with those of aides and another member of the committee, had been seized — what he condemned as a “terrible abuse of power.”
“It also makes the Department of Justice just a fully owned subsidiary of the president’s personal legal interests and political interests,” the California Democrat told MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow.
The New York Times, citing knowledgeable sources, reported on Thursday night that as the Department of Justice hunted for leakers behind the distribution of classified information early in the Trump administration, prosecutors — in an extraordinary move — subpoenaed Apple for communications data of at least two Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee, as well as that of aides and a family member. One was a child.
In the end, the data didn’t tie the committee to the leaks, and there were discussions about dropping the investigation, according to the report. But a year later, William Barr, after becoming attorney general, revitalized the investigation, moving around department employees to work on the Schiff case.
Rep. Eric Swalwell of California confirmed on Thursday that he was the second committee Democrat whose records were seized, telling CNN that he was notified by Apple.
“We have seen this through the Justice Department by Donald Trump, whether it was the reason he was impeached, for trying to go after Vice President Biden at the time, or just other efforts, you know, through the Mueller investigation,” Swalwell said. “And I support Chairman Schiff’s call for an inspector general report into not only this conduct, but other conduct that was corrupt by Donald Trump and those who worked for him.”
When Maddow asked Schiff on Thursday whether Congress should also investigate the department’s seizing of the records, Schiff said it should, adding that Attorney General Merrick Garland would be questioned on the matter. He said he himself shouldn’t have a role in the investigation, given that his records were subpoenaed, but said other committees in Congress could exercise oversight.
As for Garland’s role, Schiff said that the current attorney general had a responsibility to “clean house,” and that it would be at least a decade before the department recovered from politicization.
The seizing of metadata, if corroborated, would show how eager Trump administration officials were to identify and prosecute the sources. The Justice Department, just as it did in investigating news organizations, was reported to have issued a gag order against Apple. Lawmakers didn’t learn they were being investigated until last month, when the gag order expired and Apple notified them of the seizure, according to the Times report.
Schiff also said Thursday that it was still unclear how many members were targeted by the subpoenas, and whether only Democrats’ records were seized. He said they would learn more in coming days as members of the committee rechecked old emails for the notice from Apple — an email that members and staff thought was spam, Schiff said.
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