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The top national security official with the Department of Justice is resigning amid repeated revelations that the department secretly seized records from House Democrats and members of the media.
John Demers's resignation was first reported by the Associated Press on Monday morning, and his departure is expected to occur by the end of next week.
In recent weeks, reports have surfaced alleging the DOJ sought subpoenas against Democratic members of Congress and reporters as part of the investigation into alleged leaks of classified information to the media. The Trump Justice Department reportedly sought Apple records from former White House counsel Don McGahn. It is not clear that the departure of Demers is tied to the recent revelations.
The New York Times cited a “person familiar with the matter” on Monday to report that Demers is expected to leave DOJ at the end of next week, stating that it is “a departure that was arranged months ago.” The outlet said that former acting deputy attorney general John Carlin “had asked” Demers to “remain” at DOJ, and that Demers “asked to leave by summer, and the two men eventually agreed that he would stay on through June 25.”
Since his Senate confirmation in February 2018, Demers has led the DOJ's National Security Division, which typically handles national security-related leak investigations.
The office for the Department of Justice's top watchdog, Michael Horowitz, announced on Friday that it is looking into the matter.
Attorney General Merrick Garland also called for an investigation on Monday.
“As I stated during my confirmation hearing, political or other improper considerations must play no role in any investigative or prosecutorial decisions,” he said. “These principles that have long been held as sacrosanct by the DOJ career workforce will be vigorously guarded on my watch, and any failure to live up to them will be met with strict accountability. There are important questions that must be resolved in connection with an effort by the department to obtain records related to Members of Congress and Congressional staff. I have accordingly directed that the matter be referred to the Inspector General and have full confidence that he will conduct a thorough and independent investigation. If at any time as the investigation proceeds action related to the matter in question is warranted, I will not hesitate to move swiftly.”
“In addition, and while that review is pending, I have instructed the Deputy Attorney General, who is already working on surfacing potentially problematic matters deserving high level review, to evaluate and strengthen the department’s existing policies and procedures for obtaining records of the Legislative branch,” Garland added. “Consistent with our commitment to the rule of law, we must ensure that full weight is accorded to separation-of-powers concerns moving forward.”
This follows a recent report by the New York Times that while Jeff Sessions served as attorney general in 2017 and 2018, prosecutors “subpoenaed Apple for data from the accounts of at least two Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee, aides, and family members” during a leak investigation.
The New York Times also revealed that the DOJ under former President Donald Trump obtained phone records from four of its reporters, making it the third news outlet to announce similar seizures from its journalists, including the Washington Post and CNN earlier this year.
Reports have emerged that former Attorney General William Barr, Sessions, and former acting Attorney General Rod Rosenstein have said they were not aware of DOJ subpoenas against House Intelligence Committee Democrats such as Adam Schiff and Eric Swalwell.
Barr told Politico that he didn’t remember being briefed on these actions, telling the outlet that he was “not aware of any congressman’s records being sought in a leak case” and that Trump "was not aware of who we were looking at in any of the cases.” Barr said that Trump had not told him to focus on House Democrats and that “I never discussed the leak cases with Trump. He didn’t really ask me any of the specifics.”
It was reported by the Daily Beast that Sessions “is telling associates he had no idea his Justice Department seized phone records” of Schiff and Swalwell and that Sessions “has privately told people that he wasn’t aware of, nor was he briefed on, the reported data seizures while he led the Trump DOJ.” He added that “this week’s revelations were a surprise to him, according to a source familiar with the matter, and another person close to Sessions.”
And CNN reported that Rosenstein “has told people in recent days he was not aware of a subpoena that targeted the data of Democratic members of Congress while he was deputy attorney general,” according to “a source familiar with Rosenstein.”
Democratic Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said on Sunday that Barr, Sessions, and Demers should all be subpoenaed by the Senate in relation to the DOJ’s leak investigations.
Demers is probably best known for leading the DOJ’s China Initiative since November 2018, an effort the DOJ says was “put in place to counter the Peoples Republic of China’s persistent and aggressive economic espionage, trade secret theft, hacking and other related crimes.” Demers said in November that more than 1,000 foreign researchers affiliated with the Chinese military left the United States following the crackdown last summer that resulted in half a dozen members of the People’s Liberation Army studying in the U.S. being arrested and charged with concealing their ties to China's military and thus committing visa fraud while acting as students or researchers at U.S. universities.
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Original Author: Mike Brest, Jerry Dunleavy