Justice Department probes Trump DOJ targeting of media and Congress
Department of Justice Inspector General Michael Horowitz on Friday announced the opening of an internal probe into the department's Trump-era secret subpoenas against Apple for data belonging to House Democrats and its seizure of phone records of journalists working for major media companies.
The state of play: The move comes after Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco requested that Horowitz open a review and calls from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) for an investigation into the matter.
Of note: Following demands from Democratic congressional leaders for former Attorney General William Barr to testify about the leak probes, Barr on Friday said he did not recall getting briefed on the subpoenas, per Politico.
- Barr told Politico that while he was attorney general, he was “not aware of any congressman’s records being sought in a leak case.”
- Trump "was not aware of who we were looking at in any of the cases,” Barr said, according to Politico. “I never discussed the leak cases with Trump. He didn’t really ask me any of the specifics.”
Context: The DOJ obtained a gag order against Apple and subpoenaed the company to hand over data belonging to House Intelligence Committee members, their aides and family members as part of its crackdown on media leaks related to the investigation into potential coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia.
- At least a dozen people linked to the House Intelligence Committee had records seized between 2017 and early 2018, including Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), who now chairs the committee and has also called for an inspector general investigation.
- Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.), a fierce critic of former President Trump, was also targeted.
- As part of the leak investigation, Trump's Justice Department also secretly seized the phone records of journalists working for CNN, the Washington Post and the New York Times.
What they're saying: "The DOJ Office of the Inspector General (OIG) 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, and the news media in connection with recent investigations of alleged unauthorized disclosures of information to the media by government officials," Horowitz said Friday.
- "The review will examine the Department’s compliance with applicable DOJ policies and procedures, and whether any such uses, or the investigations, were based upon improper considerations."
- "If circumstances warrant, the OIG will consider other issues that may arise during the review," Horowitz added.
Pelosi called the subpoenas "yet another egregious assault on our democracy waged by the former president."
- Schumer and Senate Judiciary Chairman Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) called on former Attorney Generals Bill Barr and Jess Sessions Friday to testify before Congress on the seizures.
The big picture: The data handed over by Apple and other evidence ultimately did not tie the committee members or other people linked to the committee to the leaks, according to the New York Times.
This story has been updated.