The Department of Justice (DOJ) under former President Donald Trump subpoenaed the phone records of at least two Democratic lawmakers, as well as their aides and family members, in an effort to determine who was leaking damaging information about the administration to the press, a report from The New York Times has revealed.
Trump’s DOJ in 2017 and 2018, then under the purview of former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, sought the records to find out who was talking to the media about contacts between Trump allies and officials and the Russian government. During those investigations, the Justice Department subpoenaed Apple for the data of at least two Democratic lawmakers on the House Intelligence Committee whom the former president often clashed with in public, Reps. Adam Schiff (D-California) and Eric Swalwell (D-California).
Those lawmakers and their family members (including a minor) were not informed of the investigation into their records until last month, when a gag order filed by Trump’s DOJ on Apple, which prevented the company from informing those who were being examined by the department, finally expired.
In total, at least a dozen individuals had their data subpoenaed by the Trump DOJ, The Times reported.
The seizure of information found no evidence to tie the leaks to the lawmakers or other individuals linked to them. As the inquiries dragged on, officials in the department complained that “charges were becoming less realistic,” The Times reported.
The inquiry was eventually dropped, but was revived when former Attorney General William Barr took over the department years later. Barr hired an inexperienced investigator from New Jersey to work on finding connections to Schiff, but no evidence of malfeasance was ever found.
Barr’s investigation, including the attempt to obtain records that appeared to have nothing to do with leaks, was viewed by many DOJ officials as partisan.
The Times described the use of subpoenas for the lawmakers’ records to find leaks as “a nearly unheard-of move outside of corruption investigations.” Leak investigations are normal — the Obama administration also went after many leakers — but current and former officials in Congress speaking to The Times described the subpoenas as an extraordinary move in this case.
“Notwithstanding whether there was sufficient predication for the leak investigation itself, including family members and minor children strikes me as extremely aggressive,” David Laufman, a former Justice Department official who worked on leak investigations, told the publication. “In combination with former President Trump’s unmistakable vendetta against Congressman Schiff, it raises serious questions about whether the manner in which this investigation was conducted was influenced by political considerations rather than purely legal ones.”
Both Swalwell and Schiff have confirmed that they were subpoenaed by Trump’s DOJ and had been alerted that they were targets of the inquiry. Swalwell, speaking during an interview on CNN Thursday evening, said he, Schiff, and potentially others “were targeted punitively — not for any reason in law, but because Donald Trump identified Chairman Schiff and members of the committee as an enemy.”
Schiff, who at the time served as the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee and is now its chair, called for an investigation into the seizure of his and others’ data.
“I believe the Inspector General should investigate this and other cases that suggest the weaponization of law enforcement by a corrupt president,” Schiff said in a statement.
“It violates, I think, the separation of powers, but it also makes the Department of Justice a fully owned subsidiary of the president’s personal legal interests,” Schiff added in an interview on Thursday with MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow.
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-California) agreed with the need for an inquiry into the matter.
“The news about the politicization of the Trump administration Justice Department is harrowing,” Pelosi said. “These actions appear to be yet another egregious assault on our democracy. I support Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff’s call for an investigation.”
In addition to lawmakers’ records being subpoenaed by the DOJ during Trump’s tenure, it has also recently been revealed that multiple reporters’ records (from The Washington Post, The New York Times and CNN) were also subpoenaed at the time by Trump’s Justice Department. The former president frequently cited these news agencies and others as being against his presidency, often decrying the media in general as being “enemies” of the United States.