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The Department of Justice's top watchdog announced it is looking into recent revelations that 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 office for Michael Horowitz announced the new watchdog investigation on Friday.
“The DOJ OIG is reviewing the DOJ’s use of subpoenas and other legal authorities to obtain communication records of Members of Congress and affiliated persons, and the news media in connection with recent investigations of alleged unauthorized disclosures of information to the media by government officials,” the DOJ inspector general’s office said. “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. If circumstances warrant, the OIG will consider other issues that may arise during the review."
This follows a Thursday 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, stating “the records of at least a dozen people tied to the committee were seized” during that time. This reportedly included then-ranking member and now chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Adam Schiff, and fellow Democrat and committee member, Rep. Eric Swalwell, both critics of former President Donald Trump who have been accused by him and his allies of leaking to the press.
“Trump repeatedly demanded the DOJ go after his political enemies. It's clear his demands didn't fall on deaf ears,” Schiff tweeted on Thursday evening. “This baseless investigation, while now closed, is yet another example of Trump's corrupt weaponization of justice.”
Nancy Pelosi, the House speaker, issued a statement Thursday calling upon Horowitz to investigate the issue, saying, “The news about the politicization of the Trump Administration Justice Department is harrowing. These actions appear to be yet another egregious assault on our democracy waged by the former president … I support Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff’s call for an investigation into this situation and other acts of the weaponization of law enforcement by the former president.”
Others issued similar statements on Friday, with Democratic Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Democratic Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin saying, “Former Attorneys General Barr and Sessions and other officials who were involved must testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee under oath” and, “If they refuse, they are subject to being subpoenaed and compelled to testify under oath.”
William Barr, who took over as Trump’s attorney general in early 2019, said in a Friday interview with Politico he did not recall being briefed on the subpoenas tied to Congress, saying he was “not aware of any congressman’s records being sought in a leak case.” Barr also told the outlet Trump did not instruct him to focus on House Democrats during leak investigations and said the former president “was not aware of who we were looking at in any of the cases.”
Barr added, “I never discussed the leak cases with Trump. He didn’t really ask me any of the specifics.”
Following direction from President Joe Biden, the Justice Department said last week it would no longer seek court orders to obtain records from journalists just "doing their jobs" following revelations about Trump administration leak investigations.
Biden condemned this practice in May, telling reporters, “Absolutely, positively, it's wrong. It's simply, simply wrong. I will not let that happen."
While Biden was vice president, the Justice Department under former President Barack Obama also seized reporter records during leak investigations.
“DOJ has now completed a review to determine all instances in which the department had pending compulsory requests from reporters in leak investigations. All reporters involved have now been notified,” Anthony Coley, the DOJ director of public affairs and senior adviser to Attorney General Merrick Garland, told the Washington Examiner. “Going forward, consistent with the president’s direction, this Department of Justice, in a change to its long-standing practice, will not seek compulsory legal process in leak investigations to obtain source information from members of the news media doing their jobs. The Department strongly values a free press, protecting First Amendment values, and is committed to taking all appropriate steps to ensure the independence of journalists.”
The New York Times revealed Wednesday the DOJ under the Trump administration 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.
Last August, the nation’s top spy office, led at the time by Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe, announced it would switch its election security briefings to Congress from being in person to being conducted in writing, saying the change was due to concerns about classified leaks and politicization of intelligence.
Trump said at the time that “Director Ratcliffe brought information into the committee and the information leaked — whether it was Shifty Schiff or somebody else, they leaked the information, and what's even worse, they leaked the wrong information, and he got tired of it.”
Schiff denied leaking during a CNN interview that month, saying, “I haven’t. My staff hasn’t. I can’t speak for what all the members of the committee have done or not done, including a lot of the Republican members. Leaks are always improper, and sometimes they’re illegal. But of course, this is a falsehood, yet again, another lie by the president.”
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Original Author: Jerry Dunleavy