WASHINGTON – Apple told former President Donald J. Trump’s lawyer Donald F. McGahn II last month that the Justice Department subpoenaed information about an account it owned in February 2018 and that the government had banned the company from telling him at the time, according to two people briefed on the matter.
Mr McGahn’s wife received a similar notice from Apple, said one of the people, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive issue.
It’s not clear what FBI agents were monitoring, or if Mr. McGahn was their specific target. In investigations, agents sometimes compile a long list of phone numbers and email addresses that were in contact with a subject, and seek to identify all of those people using subpoenas to communications companies for any information. account such as names, computer addresses and credit card numbers associated with them.
Still, the disclosure that agents secretly collected data from a sitting White House lawyer is striking as it comes amid a political backlash to revelations about the data seizures of journalists and Democrats in Congress during the Trump era for investigating the leaks. The president’s principal lawyer is also a primary point of contact between the White House and the Department of Justice.
Apple told McGahn it complied with the subpoena in a timely manner, but declined to tell him what it provided to the government, according to a person briefed on the matter. Under Department of Justice policy, subpoena gag orders can be renewed for up to one year at a time, suggesting prosecutors have gone to court multiple times to prevent Apple from informing the McGahns earlier.
Apple and Justice Department spokespersons did not immediately respond to requests for comment. An attorney for Mr. McGahn declined to comment.
Apple told the McGahns it received the summons on February 23, 2018, according to a person briefed on the matter. The other person familiar with the matter said the subpoena was issued by a grand jury in the Eastern District of Virginia.
It is not known why prosecutors obtained the subpoena. But several notable events were happening around this time.
One of the roughly simultaneous events was that the Federal Court for the Eastern District of Virginia was the focus of part of the Russia investigation led by Special Advisor Robert S. Mueller III, which dealt with Paul Manafort. , the former president of the 2016 Trump Presidential Campaign.
Given that Mr. McGahn had been the best advocate in the Trump campaign in 2016, it is possible that at some point he was among those in contact with someone whose Mueller team was reviewing the account at the start. from 2018.
In particular, Mr. Manafort had been struck with new fraud charges unsealed the day before the summons. Subsequent developments revealed that Mr Mueller’s investigators were taking a close look at some of his communication accounts in the days that followed.
Another roughly concomitant event was that around this time Mr. Trump got angry with Mr. McGahn over a matter related to the Russia inquiry, and that included a leak.
In late January 2018, the New York Times reported, based on confidential sources, that Mr. Trump had ordered Mr. McGahn in the previous June to ask the Justice Department to fire Mr. Mueller, but Mr. McGahn had refused. to do so and threatened to resign. The Washington Post confirmed this account shortly after in a follow-up article.
The Mueller report, and Mr. McGahn himself in private testimony before the House Judiciary Committee this month, described Mr. Trump’s anger against Mr. McGahn after the Times story, including trying to make him make a declaration falsely denying it. Mr. Trump has told his aides that Mr. McGahn is a “liar” and a “leaker,” according to former Trump administration officials. In his testimony, Mr McGahn said he had been a source for The Post’s follow-up to clarify a nuance – to which he had communicated his intention to resign – but he had not been a source for the Post. original Times article.
There is, however, reason to doubt that Mr. McGahn was the target of a Justice Department investigation into the leaks resulting from this episode. Among other things, the information about Mr. Trump’s orders to have Mr. Mueller removed does not appear to be the kind of classified national security secret that it may be a crime to divulge without authorization.
Another roughly simultaneous occurrence is that the subpoena to Apple that swept Mr. McGahn’s information came shortly after another that the Department of Justice sent to Apple on February 6, 2018, for an investigation. on leaks related to unauthorized disclosures of information about Russia. investigation, trapping data on Congress staff, their families and at least two members of Congress.
Among those whose data was secretly seized under a gag order, and who were not notified until recently, were two Democrats from the House Intelligence Committee: Eric Swalwell and Adam B. Schiff, both of California. Mr. Schiff, a bitter political opponent of Mr. Trump, is now the panel chair. The Times first reported on the subpoena last week.
Many questions remain unanswered about the events that led up to the politically sensitive subpoenas, including how well they were authorized by Trump’s Justice Department and whether investigators anticipated or hoped they would sweep away any claims. data on politically prominent lawmakers. The summons requested data on 109 email addresses and phone numbers.
In this case, the leak investigation appeared to have focused primarily on Michael Bahar, then a staff member of the House Intelligence Committee. People close to Jeff Sessions and Rod J. Rosenstein, the two top Justice Department officials at the time, said neither knew prosecutors had been looking for data on lawmakers’ accounts for this investigation. .
It remains unclear whether the officers were pursuing a theory that Mr Bahar had leaked on his own or whether they suspected him of speaking to reporters with the approval of lawmakers. Either way, it seems they haven’t been able to prove their suspicions that he was the source of any unauthorized disclosure; the case was closed and no charges were laid.
Katie benner and Adam goldman contributed reports.