Inspector General Michael Horowitz’s announcement came shortly after Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco made the request on Friday. Horowitz said he would examine whether the data released by Apple followed department policy and “whether such uses, or the investigations, were based on inappropriate considerations.”
House intelligence committee chairman Adam Schiff, D-California, and another Democratic panel member, California Rep. Eric Swalwell, said they were notified by Apple last month that their metadata had been cited and released to the Department of Justice in 2018, as its committee was investigating the former president’s ties with Russia. Schiff was then the leading Democrat on the panel, later led by Republicans.
While the Justice Department routinely investigates leaked information, including classified intelligence, subpoenaing private information from members of Congress is extraordinarily rare. The revelations, first reported by the New York Times, raise questions about what the justice department’s justification was for spying on another branch of government and whether it was done for political reasons.
The Trump administration’s attempt to secretly gain access to the data came as the president was furious in public and private over investigations, in Congress and by then-special counsel Robert Mueller, into his campaign’s ties to Russia. . Trump called the investigations a “witch hunt,” regularly criticized Democrats and Mueller on Twitter, and repeatedly called “fake news” leaks that he deemed detrimental to his agenda. As investigations swirled around him, he demanded loyalty from a justice department that he often considered his personal law firm.
Schiff and Swalwell were two of the most visible Democrats on the committee during the Russia investigation, making frequent appearances on cable news. Trump watched those channels closely, if not obsessively, and was infuriated by the coverage.
Schiff said in a statement that the seizures suggest “the militarization of law enforcement by a corrupt president.”
Senate Democratic leaders immediately demanded that former attorneys general Bill Barr and Jeff Sessions, who oversaw the Trump leak investigations, testify about the secret subpoenas. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin said in a statement that “this terrible politicization of the Justice Department by Donald Trump and his sycophants” must be investigated. They said Barr and Sessions are subject to a subpoena if they refuse.
Prosecutors from Trump’s Justice Department had subpoenaed Apple for the data, according to a committee official and two other people familiar with the matter. The records of at least 12 people connected to the intelligence panel were eventually shared by the company, including assistants, former aides and family members. One was a minor.
Apple informed the committee last month that the records had been shared and that the investigation had been closed, but did not give many details. The committee official and the other two with knowledge of the data seizures were given anonymity to discuss them.
The justice department obtained the metadata, often call logs, text messages and locations, but not other content from the devices, such as photos, messages or emails, according to one of the people. Another said Apple complied with the subpoena, provided the information to the justice department, and did not immediately notify members of Congress or the committee of the disclosure.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, said in a statement that the data seizures “appear to be another heinous assault on our democracy” by the former president.
“The news about the politicization of the Trump administration’s justice department is heartbreaking,” he said.
The committee official said the panel has continued to seek additional information, but the justice department has not responded to questions such as whether the investigation was properly based and only focused on Democrats.
It is unclear why Trump’s justice department would have targeted a minor as part of the investigation. Swalwell, confirming that he was told his records were confiscated, told CNN late Thursday that he knew a minor was involved and that he believed that person had been “a punitive target and not for any legal reason.”
The Senate intelligence committee was not a similar target, according to a fourth person who was aware of the investigation and granted anonymity to discuss it.
There is no indication that the Justice Department used the records to prosecute anyone. After some of the information was declassified and made public during the final years of the Trump administration, some of the prosecutors were concerned that even if they could file a leak case, trying would be difficult and a conviction unlikely. people said.
Federal agents questioned at least one former committee staff member in 2020, the person said, and ultimately, prosecutors were unable to substantiate a case.
The news follows revelations that the Justice Department had secretly seized phone records belonging to reporters from The New York Times, The Washington Post and CNN as part of investigations into criminal leaks. Following protests by press freedom organizations, the justice department announced last week that it would stop practicing information seeking by journalists.