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DOJ, Congress investigating Trump admin seizures of House Dems’ phone data

President Donald J. Trump in Harlingen, Texas, Jan. 12, 2021, en route to Joint Base Andrews, Md. (Shealah Craighead/White House)
June 11, 2021

The Department of Justice (DOJ) Office of the Attorney General announced Friday the launch of an investigation into former President Donald Trump’s administration for secretly taking the phone data of at least two House Democrats during a probe into leaked information, including House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, who called for a separate Congressional inquiry into the probe.

“The DOJ Office of the Inspector General (OIG) is initiating a review of 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,” Inspector General Michael E. Horowitz’s announcement read.

The inspector general’s statement was released after Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco requested the investigation Friday, according to The Associated Press. Horowitz said the review will examine whether the actions by Trump’s DOJ complied with department policies and procedures, and whether the investigations were based on “improper considerations.”

Last month, Reps. Adam Schiff (D-CA) and Eric Swalwell (D-CA) revealed that Apple had notified them that their data had been subpoenaed by the DOJ in 2018.

Rep. Schiff called the data seizure a “terrible abuse of power” and demanded an inquiry into the seizures.

“It violates, I think, the separation of powers, but it also makes the Department of Justice a fully owned subsidiary of the president’s personal legal interests,” Schiff said in an interview with MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow.

The New York Times, which first reported the subpoenas Thursday, said the DOJ seized the private phone information of around a dozen people involving the two House Democrats, as well as their aides and family members, including one minor.

The Justice Department regularly investigates leaked information, including classified material, the AP reported, but the subpoenas spark concerns about why the DOJ was spying on the Legislative Branch. There are no signs that the information obtained in the probe was used to prosecute anyone.  

“A question that we have for the Department of Justice is what legally was this predicated on? When did it start? And how did it continue?” said one House intelligence committee official, who also spoke on the condition of anonymity, according to USA Today.

“We have repeatedly posed basic and readily answerable questions to the Department for more than a month but have received virtually no information beyond a confirmation that the investigation is closed,” the official continued. “The Department’s refusal to provide information is unacceptable, and they will need to provide a full accounting of this and other instances in which law enforcement was weaponized against Donald Trump’s political opponents.”