WASHINGTON (AP) – Senate Democratic leaders demand that Trump-era Attorneys General Bill Barr and Jeff Sessions give evidence to the secret data entry by House Democrats in 2018, calling it “shocking” and of “flagrant abuse of power”.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Illinois. Senator Dick Durbin said in a statement Friday that Barr and Sessions “must testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee” and are subject to subpoena if they refuse.
The requests came after Democratic Representatives Adam Schiff and Eric Swalwell were told that former President Donald Trump’s Justice Department seized their metadata from Apple three years ago as part of an aggressive crackdown on leaks related to the Russia investigation and other national security issues. . This is according to three people familiar with seizures.
Schiff and Swalwell were on the House Intelligence Committee at the time – Schiff is now its chairman.
While the Department of Justice routinely investigates leaked information, including classified information, the initiation of such an investigation into members of Congress is extraordinarily rare. The disclosures reveal that one branch of government is using its investigative and prosecutorial powers to spy on another.
Schiff said the seizures suggest “the militarization of law enforcement by a corrupt president.”
Trump’s Justice Department prosecutors have subpoenaed Apple for the data, a committee official and two other people with insider knowledge said. The files of at least 12 people connected to the intelligence panel were finally shared by the company.
The head of the committee and the two other people with knowledge of the data entries were granted anonymity to discuss it.
Apple informed the committee last month that the cases had been shared and the investigation had been closed, but did not give detailed details. The files of helpers, former helpers and family members, including a minor, were also seized, according to the head of the committee.
The Justice Department obtained metadata – likely recordings of calls, texts and locations – but not other content from the devices, like photos, messages or emails, according to one of the people. . Another said Apple complied with the subpoena, providing the information to the Justice Department, and did not immediately notify members of Congress or the committee of the disclosure.
The secret seizures were first reported by The New York Times.
The Trump administration’s attempt to covertly gain access to the data came as the President ranted publicly and privately about investigations – in Congress and by then-Special Advocate Robert Mueller – into the links to his campaign with Russia.
Trump called the investigations a “witch hunt,” regularly criticized Democrats and Mueller on Twitter, and repeatedly called the leaks “fake news” he found harmful to his agenda. As investigations revolved around him, he demanded the loyalty of a Justice Department he often viewed as his personal law firm.
Schiff and Swalwell were two of the most visible Democrats on the then Republican-led committee during the Russia inquiry. The two California lawmakers have made frequent appearances on cable news. Trump watched these channels closely, if not obsessively, and boiled over the cover.
Schiff, in a statement Thursday evening, called for an investigation by the Justice Department’s Inspector General into the seizures.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., Said in a statement that the data entries “appeared to be another blatant attack on our democracy” led by the former president.
“The news regarding the politicization of the Trump administration’s justice department is heartbreaking,” she said.
The committee official said the panel continued to seek additional information, but the Justice Department failed to answer questions such as whether the investigation was properly founded and whether it focused solely on on Democrats.
It is not known why Trump’s Justice Department allegedly targeted a minor as part of the investigation. Swalwell, confirming that he had been told his files had been seized, told CNN Thursday night that he knew a minor was involved and believed that person was “being targeted punitively and for no legal reason.”
On CNN on Friday, Swalwell said he “wouldn’t be surprised” if the department had attacked other members as well. He said an internal Justice Department investigation could find out. The Senate Intelligence Committee was not targeted in the same way, according to a fourth person who was aware of the investigation and granted anonymity to discuss it.
There is no indication that the Department of Justice used the files to prosecute anyone. After some information was declassified and made public during the last few years of the Trump administration, some of the prosecutors feared that even if they could file a leak case, trying it would be difficult and a conviction would be unlikely, l one of the people said.
Federal agents interviewed at least one former committee staff member in 2020, the person said, and ultimately prosecutors were unable to substantiate a case.
The news follows revelations that the Justice Department secretly seized telephone tapes belonging to reporters at the New York Times, Washington Post and CNN as part of criminal investigations into the leaks. Following an outcry from press freedom organizations, the Justice Ministry announced last week that it would stop targeting journalists’ searches for information.
Associated Press writer Eric Tucker contributed to this report.
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