WASHINGTON – The Justice Department’s internal watchdog will investigate the seizure of Trump-era communications materials from some Democratic lawmakers and journalists, the agency said on Friday.
He joins a burgeoning effort in Congress to uncover more details about what happened in 2017 when President Donald Trump’s Justice Department asked Apple to hand over communications metadata for at least two members of the Democratic House, their staff and members of their families. The investigation became public Thursday in a New York Times report.
Separately on Friday, Senate Democratic Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin threatened to subpoena former Attorneys General William Barr and Jeff Sessions to testify before Congress in subject of surveys.
House Intelligence Democrats have grown frustrated since learning their data was targeted last month and were unable to get more information from the Justice Department, according to a House official.
A House Intelligence Committee official said on Friday that panel chairman Adam Schiff, who was among those targeted, was unable to obtain information about the summons from officials in the Biden administration. For example, the committee specifically asked what metadata was included in subpoenas and the Justice Department did not provide answers, the official said.
“We repeatedly asked basic and easy-to-answer questions to the department for over a month, but received virtually no information beyond a confirmation that the investigation is closed,” the assistant said in a statement. “The ministry’s refusal to provide information is unacceptable, and they will have to provide a full account of this and other cases in which law enforcement has been armed against political opponents of Donald Trump. “
The official added that the only notification of the subpoenas had arrived via email from Apple – an email that some of those who had seen it believed could be spam, until that they check more.
The New York Times reported Thursday that under former President Donald Trump, the Justice Department subpoenaed Apple metadata in February 2018 regarding accounts belonging to at least two Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee. Their assistants and family members, including a minor, were also targeted. A source confirmed to NBC News that lawmakers and staff have been briefed by Apple.
The New York Times, CNN and the Washington Post previously revealed that they were recently informed by the DOJ that recordings of journalists at their outlets had been obtained.
Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., A frequent and vocal critic of Trump, has also been targeted.
At the time the documents were searched, the House Intelligence Committee was investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election. The newspaper reported that the files were sought as part of an investigation into leaks of classified information.
Mary McCord, a Georgetown law professor who was acting head of the Justice Department’s national security division until May 2017, said Sessions was “very interested in continuing to investigate the leaks” at the start of the Trump administration.
“According to the practice of the department, any investigation of an elected official would have been considered a sensitive issue which would have required high-level approval,” she said.
Schumer and Durbin said in a statement that Congress and the Justice Department’s Inspector General should investigate these actions by the Trump administration.
“Former Attorneys General Barr and Sessions and other officials involved must testify under oath before the Senate Judiciary Committee. If they refuse, they are likely to be subpoenaed and forced to testify under oath, ”their statement said.
Schumer and Durbin said the Justice Department is also to provide information to the Judicial Commission on what they called “flagrant abuse of power” and “breach of the separation of powers.”