Congress Begins Investigation of Alleged Justice Dept. Abuses
WASHINGTON — A powerful congressional committee is beginning an investigation into reports the Justice Department secretly subpoenaed information about members of Congress and journalists during the Trump administration.
The committee’s chairman said he was concerned the Justice Department “used criminal investigations as a pretext to spy on President Trump’s perceived political enemies.”
A New York Times story last week said the Justice Department subpoenaed data from computer giant Apple Inc. about House Democrats Adam Schiff and Eric Swalwell, both critics of Trump, as well as their families and aides.
“Congress must make it extraordinarily difficult, if not impossible, for the Department to spy on the Congress or the news media,” Rep. Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said in a statement.
The Justice department also subpoenaed Apple in February 2018 to get metadata on then-White House counsel Don McGahn and his wife in an apparent attempt to determine the source of leaks about Trump’s presidential campaign.
Apple was barred from revealing the subpoena by a gag order. The company notified the McGahns of the subpoena last month after the gag order expired.
Nadler said the reports “raise serious constitutional and separation of power concerns.”
Former Trump administration attorneys general Jeff Sessions and William Barr as well as former Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein denied knowledge of the secret subpoenas.
Their denials prompted Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., to say in an interview Tuesday with MSNBC, “That feels impossible to me.”
She added that overlooking any secret subpoenas would set a dangerous precedent for future presidential administrations.
“We have to hold that last administration accountable,” Jayapal said.
Further condemnations came from U.S. Attorney General Merrick B. Garland. He made a thinly veiled threat of prosecution against any government officials who might have participated in spying on Trump’s political enemies.
“Political or other improper considerations must play no role in any investigative or prosecutorial decisions,” Garland said in a statement.
He ordered a Justice Department inspector general’s investigation to determine the possible role of his agency’s personnel in the alleged spying.
Any of their failures to fulfill their duty of prosecutorial impartiality “will be met with strict accountability,” Garland said.
He also told Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco to evaluate and possibly revise Justice Department policies on obtaining legislative branch records.
Garland met Monday with top staff of The New York Times, CNN and The Washington Post to discuss Trump administration admissions that the Justice Department seized phone and email records from their reporters, apparently in an effort to find the source of leaks.
A Justice Department summary of the meeting said, “As previously announced, the department will no longer use compulsory process to obtain reporters’ source information when they are doing their jobs.”
Separately, members of Congress on Tuesday revealed information showing Trump pressured the Justice Department to sue six swing states to get electoral college results thrown out that show he lost the 2020 election.
One of the states was Pennsylvania, where Attorney General Josh Shapiro said the federal government must stop all efforts to use the Justice Department to advance a political agenda.
Otherwise, “That cancer will come back,” Shapiro told MSNBC.
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