Following reports that the Trump Department of Justice secretly seized data of members of Congress, the public needs transparency about how far Trump pushed the DOJ to serve his own political agenda. The DOJ took the “highly unusual” step of subpoenaing Apple for metadata from the accounts of at least two Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee, including Representatives Adam Schiff and Eric Swalwell, as part of an unfruitful leak investigation in 2017 and 2018. The records of at least a dozen people tied to the committee, including members, aides, and family members, including a minor, were seized.
CREW has requested all records from January 1, 2017 to June 1, 2021 relating to any investigation of alleged unauthorized disclosures of information in which the DOJ sought communication records of the U.S. House Intelligence Committee, their staff, or their family members. CREW has also requested records reflecting the DOJ’s procedures on issuing grand jury subpoenas seeking information related to members of Congress, their staff, family members, or members of the news media.
The DOJ was investigating the sources behind news media reports about contacts between Russia and Trump associates. Lawmakers did not know they were being investigated until this year, as the DOJ placed multiple gag orders on Apple throughout the investigation. This long-running investigation, which began under Attorney General Jeff Sessions and continued through William Barr’s time as Attorney General, provided no proof of leaks. Regardless, Barr continued directing prosecutors to pursue the investigation.
The seizure of communications during the Trump era reflects a larger trend of the Trump administration politicizing law enforcement agencies and abusing the DOJ to serve Trump’s own political agenda, including attacking political adversaries. The public deserves an investigation into the extent to which the DOJ may have acted improperly in pursuing this investigation, including whether or not they followed their own internal guidance on obtaining records tied to members of Congress.