"Leakers are traitors and cowards, and we will find out who they are!" So declared then-President Trump in 2018, notes Matt Stieb at New York. Now, a scoop by the New York Times reveals the unusual lengths to which the Trump White House went to make good on that pledge. Coverage:
- The scoop: The Justice Department under Trump subpoenaed Apple for data on at least two prominent Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee, Adam Schiff and Eric Swalwell. The 2018 subpoena also covered their staffers and family members, including one minor.
- The reason: Trump wanted to figure out who was leaking classified information to reporters about the investigation into contacts between associates of Trump and Russia, per the Washington Post.
- Rarity: Such a move is highly unusual, according to both outlets. A subpoena would typically be used for a corruption investigation, not to figure out the source of a leak. Swalwell confirmed to CNN that he and family members were targeted. "Not for any reason in law but because Donald Trump identified Chairman Schiff and members of the committee as an enemy of his," he said.
- Investigation: The Justice Department's internal watchdog will investigate the data seizure, reports the Hill. “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,” said Michael Horowitz, DOJ’s inspector general, per the Hill.
- Compliance: Apple complied with the order, though it turned over metadata and not emails or photos, per the Times. Apple also was under a gag order that only recently expired, and it informed the targets of the subpoena at that point. The investigation found no evidence of leaks. The inquiry reportedly withered under Sessions before being revived by his successor, William Barr.
- One view: What the Justice Department did isn't illegal, but this kind of thing is rare for good reason, notes Ed Morrissey at the conservative site Hot Air. "Given that the House Intelligence Committee was investigating Donald Trump and his campaign at the time, this at least has the smell of either retaliation or surveillance of the probe, either of which would constitute an abuse of power," he writes. If nothing else, it suggests "the Trump-era DoJ was on a world-record fishing expedition."
- Investigations, II: Democratic leaders including Chuck Schumer called for Sessions and Barr to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee, reports the AP. Nancy Pelosi also wants to investigate what she calls Trump's "weaponization of law enforcement," per the Wall Street Journal.
(This comes on the heels of the revelation that Barr's Justice Department subpoenaed the records of journalists
at multiple news organizations.)