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Justice Department and Congress investigate Trump-era data seizures of Democrats

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WASHINGTON (AP) The Justice Department’s internal watchdog launched an investigation Friday after revelations that the administration of former President Donald Trumps secretly seized the phone data of at least two House Democrats in as part of an aggressive investigation into the leaks. Democrats called the seizures painful and abuse of power.

Inspector General Michael Horowitz’s announcement came shortly after Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco called for an internal investigation. Horowitz said he would review whether the data subpoenaed by the Justice Department and transmitted by Apple complied with departmental policy and whether such uses, or investigations, were based on improper considerations.

Horowitz said he would also investigate similar seizures of telephone tapes from journalists during the Trump era.

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., And another Democratic panel member, California Representative Eric Swalwell, said Apple informed them last month that their metadata had been assigned to appear and surrendered to the Justice Department in 2018, as their committee investigated the former president’s ties to Russia. Schiff was then the first Democrat on the panel, which was led by Republicans.

While the Justice Department routinely investigates leaked information, including classified information, subpoena of private information from members of Congress is extremely rare. The disclosures, first reported by The New York Times, raise questions about the Justice Department’s justification for spying on another branch of government and whether it was done for political reasons.

In a statement, White House Deputy Press Secretary Andrew Bates said the conduct of the Trump administration was shocking and clearly part of a dreadful trend that represents the opposite of how authority should be used.

Bates said one of President Joe Bidens’ main reasons for running for president was the unjustifiable abuses of power by his predecessors, including the disgusting ways in which he tried to impose his political interests on the Justice Department.

The Trump administration’s covert decision to gain access to the data came as the President publicly and privately ranted against investigations by Congress and by then-special advocate Robert Mueller into his campaign ties to the Russia. Trump has called the investigations a witch-hunt, has regularly criticized Democrats and Mueller on Twitter, and has dismissed false information he believes is 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.

Swalwell and Schiff were two of the committee’s most visible Democrats during the Russia inquiry, making frequent appearances in cable news. Trump watched these channels closely, if not obsessively, and boiled over the cover.

Schiff said the seizures suggest the militarization of law enforcement by a corrupt president and urged the Justice Department to conduct a full assessment of the damage caused by the department’s conduct over the past four years.

Senate Democratic leaders immediately demanded that former Attorneys General Bill Barr and Jeff Sessions, who both oversaw the Trump leak investigations, testify to the secret subpoenas. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin said in a statement that this appalling politicization of the Justice Department by Donald Trump and his sycophants must be the subject of ‘investigation. They said Barr and Sessions are subpoenaed if they refuse.

Trumps Department of Justice prosecutors had subpoenaed Apple for the data, according to a committee official and two others familiar with the matter. The files of at least 12 people linked to the intelligence group were eventually shared by the company, including assistants, former assistants and family members. One was a minor.

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 head of the committee and the two other people with knowledge of the data entries were granted anonymity to discuss it.

The Justice Department obtained the metadata, often recordings of calls, texts and locations, but not other content from the devices, such as photos, messages or emails, according to one of the people. . Another said Apple complied with the subpoena, providing the information to the Justice Department, but did not immediately notify members of Congress or the committee of the disclosure.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., Said in a statement that the data entries appeared to be another blatant attack on our democracy by the former president.

The news regarding the politicization of the Trump administration’s Justice Department is poignant, she said.

The committee official said the House Intelligence panel will ask Apple to determine if other lawmakers are being targeted. The Justice Department did not respond to questions such as whether the investigation was properly founded and whether it focused only on Democrats, the official said.

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 evening that he knew a minor was involved and believed that person was being targeted punitively and for no legal reason.

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 relating to the Russia investigation was declassified and made public during the last few years of the Trump administration, some of the prosecutors feared that even if they could bring a leak case, a conviction would be unlikely. , said one of the people.

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 Department announced last week that it would stop targeting journalists who obtain information.

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Associated Press writer Eric Tucker contributed to this report.

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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