Justice Department watchdog to investigate data seizure as House Democrats discuss impacts of leak probe

Justice Department watchdog to investigate data seizure as House Democrats discuss impacts of leak probe



The request comes as House Intelligence Committee Democrats held a briefing led by Chairman Adam Schiff. A source said that members were ‘animated’ in trying to figure out who at the Justice Department and in the Trump administration were behind the effort to seize their records.

The activity follows the bombshell revelation that prosecutors in the Trump administration Justice Department subpoenaed Apple for data from the accounts of House Intelligence Committee Democrats along with their staff and family members as part of a leak investigation.

The prosecutors were looking for the sources behind news stories about contacts between Russia and Trump associates.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin are calling for former Attorneys General William Barr and Jeff Sessions to testify on the matter.

“If they refuse, they are subject to being subpoenaed and compelled to testify under oath,” the Democrats said in a statement.

“This issue should not be partisan; under the Constitution, Congress is a co-equal branch of government and must be protected from an overreaching executive, and we expect that our Republican colleagues will join us in getting to the bottom of this serious matter,” Schumer and Durbin said.

Democrats to ask Apple to determine if additional members were targeted by DOJ

Intelligence Committee Democrats plan to ask Apple to look into whether additional members were targeted by the Trump Justice Department, according to a source familiar with the matter.

The members are providing staff with all of their different numbers and accounts and the staff will ask Apple to provide information back about whether they were subjects of a DOJ subpoena.

There were generic “Apple notices” sent to members whose records were seized sent on May 5, the source said. But members are concerned those generic emails could have been ignored, deleted or swept up into their spam folders.

Barr says Trump didn’t direct him to target lawmakers

Barr told Politico in a telephone interview Friday that he does not recall getting briefed that prosecutors in the Justice Department had subpoenaed Apple before he came into office.

According to Politico, Barr said that while he was attorney general, he was “not aware of any congressman’s records being sought in a leak case,” during the time he was attorney general and said former President Donald Trump never directed him to target lawmakers for investigation.

Trump “was not aware of who we were looking at in any of the cases,” Barr told Politico. “I never discussed the leak cases with Trump. He didn’t really ask me any of the specifics.”

Republicans focus on potential leaks

Key Republicans issued statements focusing on the potential leaks DOJ was investigating rather than the methods, and withheld judgment on whether the department was following the rules.

“Both classified leaks and abuses of power are serious offenses that must be met with strict consequences,” said the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, Iowa’s Chuck Grassley. “We know that the Justice Department is capable of abusing its power, as it did when it secretly spied on and ran intelligence operations against the Trump campaign. We also know that classified information in Congress’ possession can leak to the press, as was the case with the classified Carter Page FISA – the product of that abuse.”

He added that DOJ’s investigated lawmakers before.

“Investigations into Members of Congress and staff are nothing new, especially for classified leaks,” Grassley said in a statement.

Utah GOP Rep. Chris Stewart echoed the sentiment.

“I’ve been concerned, and voiced my concerns, about the leaking of classified information for many years. Leaks hurt our national security, break faith between government officials and the American people, and very often are deceptive, if not completely inaccurate,” Stewart, an Intelligence Committee member, said in a statement.

“I support investigating leaks of classified information,” he added. “When the DOJ is acting within their legal bounds, members of the Intelligence Committee shouldn’t be immune to appropriate investigations.”

White House calls reports ‘appalling’

In the Biden administration’s first on-camera reaction Friday, White House communications director Kate Bedingfield called the reports “appalling.”

“The reports of the behavior of the attorney general under Donald Trump are appalling,” Bedingfield said during an appearance on MSNBC from Cornwall, England.

Bedingfield suggested President Joe Biden has a “very different relationship” with the Justice Department than his predecessor, calling out the Trump administration’s “abuse of power” with the department, and adding that the Biden administration’s Justice Department is “run very, very differently.”

Biden, Bedingfield said, “respects the independence of the Justice Department, and it’s a critically important part of how he governs.”

Swalwell says Trump ‘weaponized’ Justice Department

California Democratic Rep. Eric Swalwell, whose data was seized by the Trump administration, said Trump “weaponized” the Justice Department to dig into the private communications.

“This is about everyday Americans who don’t want to see their government weaponize law enforcement against them because of their political beliefs,” Swalwell told CNN’s Jim Sciutto on “Newsroom.”

Asked Friday by Sciutto if he leaked classified information involving investigations, Swalwell replied, “No, never.”

This story has been updated with comments congressional Republicans.

CNN’s Betsy Klein contributed to this report.

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