Former President Trump really doesn’t like leakers. He repeatedly deemed Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee throughout Trump’s time in office, the worst of them. “He’s the biggest leaker in Washington,” Trump said of Schiff in 2019. “He’s a leaker like nobody has ever seen before.”
It probably shouldn’t come as a huge surprise, then, that in 2018 Trump’s Justice Department secretly subpoenaed Apple for Schiff’s data as part of a leak investigation, The New York Times reported Thursday night. The DOJ also seized records of Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.), another Intelligence Committee member, as well as former staffers and family members of the lawmakers, including a minor. It’s unclear exactly which leaks the DOJ was investigating, but the inquiry was related to media reports about Trump’s ties to Russia, according to the Times. Regardless, the aggressive, unorthodox effort to pry into the private records of Democratic lawmakers is the latest of several disturbing examples of the Justice Department appearing to operate on behalf of Trump’s political interests.
“President Trump repeatedly and flagrantly demanded that the Department of Justice carry out his political will, and tried to use the Department as a cudgel against his political opponents and members of the media,” Schiff said in a statement. “It is increasingly apparent that those demands did not fall on deaf ears. The politicization of the Department and the attacks on the rule of law are among the most dangerous assaults on our democracy carried out by the former President.”
In issuing the subpoenas, the Justice Department placed a gag order on Apple, preventing the company from disclosing to lawmakers that their data had been turned over until this year. Swalwell said he was only informed last month that his data was obtained by the DOJ, and that the investigation had been closed.
“Of course it’s closed,” Swalwell said on CNN. “We did nothing but our jobs, and we followed the rules we were supposed to follow in our investigation… I’m not above the law, just like no one else is above the law, but to go after this many people … boy, that feels like a Donald Trump-driven investigation and I don’t have a lot of faith in his ability to fairly interpret the law.”
CNN revealed on Wednesday that a similar gag order had been placed on its lawyers and others as the Justice Department attempted to secure the emails of one of its reporters. The network’s lawyers had been battling with the DOJ’s efforts to obtain the emails for close to six months. A federal judge told the DOJ its argument for access to Pentagon reporter Barbara Starr’s emails was “speculative” and “unanchored by facts,” according to CNN.
In May, The Washington Post learned that the Justice Department secretly obtained the phone records of some of its reporters who were covering the Mueller investigation, and attempted to obtain their email records. “We are deeply troubled by this use of government power to seek access to the communications of journalists,” Cameron Barr, the Post‘s acting executive editor, said at the time. “The Department of Justice should immediately make clear its reasons for this intrusion into the activities of reporters doing their jobs, an activity protected under the First Amendment.”
Hold on, we’re still not done.
Earlier this month, the Biden administration disclosed that Trump’s Justice Department had also secretly seized the phone records of four New York Times reporters over the course of four months in 2017. “Seizing the phone records of journalists profoundly undermines press freedom,” Executive Editor Dean Baquet said in a statement. “It threatens to silence the sources we depend on to provide the public with essential information about what the government is doing.”
The cascade of news that the DOJ attempted to seize the records of Trump’s perceived enemies is more evidence of what was already apparent: that the Department of Justice was operating with the welfare of the former president in mind. Multiple ethics groups have accused then-Attorney General William Barr of using his office to further political purposes, citing Barr’s mischaracterization of the Mueller report among other dubious actions that seemed to have been carried out with Trump’s agenda in mind rather than, you know, justice.
It’s unclear to what extent Trump may have been personally directing some of these efforts, if he was at all, but the news about the leak investigation does bring to mind the time then-Sen. Kamala Harris asked Barr if anyone from the White House had ever directed him to open an investigation.
For some strange reason, Barr didn’t seem to understand the question.
This isn’t the last we’re going to hear about corruption within Trump’s Justice Department. The Associated Press reported on Friday that Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco asked DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz to open an investigation into the data seizure. And that’s exactly what he’s going to do. “The DOJ Office of the Inspector General is initiating a review of DOJ’s use of subpoenas and other legal authorities to obtain communication records of Members of Congress and affiliated persons,” Horowitz said later on Friday.
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