WASHINGTON – The Justice Department on Friday asked for an independent internal investigation into why the Trump administration seized the phone records of Democratic House MPs and their staff as part of the 2018 leak, according to the Associated Press.
Assistant Attorney General Lisa Monaco’s inquiry to the Department of Justice’s Inspector General came just hours after Democratic MPs Adam Schiff and Eric Swalwell confirmed that Trump-era DOJ officials were secretly checking their Apple phone data, as well as that of about ten intelligence committees and theirs House of Representatives family members had confiscated.
A senior Justice Department official confirmed that Monaco had made the request in an interview with the Associated Press, but could not discuss the matter publicly and spoke to AP on condition of anonymity.
Senate Democratic leaders also called on Friday for then-President Donald Trump’s two attorneys-general, William Barr and Jeff Sessions, to testify about the seizure of phone records.
The New York Times, who reported first At the Thursday night seizure, the Justice Department said it was summoning Apple over phone records of about a dozen people, including two Democrats on the committee, their aides and family members, one of whom is a minor.
A House Intelligence Committee official confirmed the existence of the subpoenas in an interview with USA Today Friday, describing them as politically motivated retaliation “against those who rightly investigated the Trump administration for abuse.”
“One question we have for the Justice Department is what is the legal basis for this? When did it start? And what happened next? “Said the official of the committee, who also spoke on condition of anonymity, since he was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.
“We have repeatedly asked the department basic and easy-to-answer questions for more than a month, but have received virtually no information other than confirmation that the investigation is complete,” said the committee official. “The Department’s refusal to provide information is unacceptable and they must provide a full account of this and other cases in which law enforcement has been used against Donald Trump’s political opponents.”
On Thursday night after the Times released its report, Swalwell went on CNN and confirmed that his phone records belonged to those who were confiscated, as well as other lawmakers and their family members.
The California Democrat also said that Apple, under a gag order preventing it from informing lawmakers that their data had been subpoenaed, had notified him that his records were being confiscated.
“I believe (the family members) were punished, not for legal reasons, (but) because Donald Trump identified Chairman Schiff and the members of the committee as his enemies,” Swalwell said said CNN Thursday, adding that the gag order was motivated by fear of a public perception that the Trump administration was targeting perceived political enemies.
Telephone data from Schiff, the chairman of the committee, was also confiscated. The Times reported that the leak investigation, which began in 2017 under former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, aimed to find sources of media reports of contacts between Trump employees and Russia. But the investigation ultimately found no evidence linking the committee to the leaks, the Times reported.
A Justice Department spokesman declined to comment.
“Shattering” attacks on political opponents, say Democrats
The Democrats in the House of Representatives immediately condemned the data seizure and called for an Inspector General to be investigated.
“The news about the politicization of the Trump administration’s Justice Department is staggering,” said House spokeswoman Nancy Pelosi, D-California. “These actions seem to be another egregious attack by the former president on our democracy.”
Democrats have also long said that Trump used the Justice Department to track down his perceived political enemies, an accusation Schiff reiterated Thursday night.
“It is clear that his demands have not fallen on deaf ears. This unsubstantiated investigation, which has now been concluded, is another example of Trump’s corrupt weapon of justice,” said Schiff. said.
In an interview with CNN On Thursday, Schiff said that multiple phone data may have been targeted by lawmakers or employees as part of the leak investigation. He said people who received notifications from Apple initially thought the emails were spam or phishing attempts.
Journalists also in their sights
The Justice Department also secretly kept journalists’ phone records from during the Trump administration The New York Times, The Washington Post and CNN. Trump and his former aides have publicly condemned leakage to the press that often resulted in unflattering news about the White House.
In the face of criticism from journalists and media representatives, the government of Biden announced It will no longer secretly seek out reporters’ records on leakage investigations, a departure from a policy used by previous governments to identify sources providing classified information to journalists.
This story will be updated.