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Trump DOJ seized data from House Democrats in leaks probe

UPDATED: Thu., June 10, 2021

By Mary Clare Jalonick and Michael Balsamo Associated Press

WASHINGTON — The Justice Department under former President Donald Trump seized data from the accounts of at least two members of the House Intelligence Committee in 2018 as part of an aggressive crackdown on leaks related to the Russia investigation and other national security matters, according to a committee official and two people familiar with the investigation.

Prosecutors from Trump’s Justice Department subpoenaed Apple for the data, according to the people, who were granted anonymity to discuss the secret seizures. The revelations were first reported by The New York Times.

The records of at least twelve people connected to the intelligence panel were eventually seized, including Chairman Adam Schiff, who was then the top Democrat on the committee. California Rep. Eric Swalwell was the second member, according to spokeswoman Natalie Edelstein.

The records of aides and family members were also shared, including one who was a minor, according to the committee official. Apple informed the committee last month that their records had been shared, but did not give extensive detail. The committee is aware, though, that metadata from the accounts was turned over, the official said.

While the Justice Department routinely conducts investigation into leaks, including of classified information, opening such an investigation into members of Congress is extraordinarily rare. The Trump administration’s attempt to secretly gain access to data of individual members of Congress and others related to the panel came as the president was fuming over investigations — in Congress and by then-special counsel Robert Mueller — into his campaign’s ties to Russia. Trump called the probes a “witch hunt” and regularly criticized Schiff and other Democrats on Twitter.

“The news about the politicization of the Trump Administration Justice Department is harrowing,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., in a statement. “These actions appear to be yet another egregious assault on our democracy waged by the former president.”

Schiff, now the panel’s chair, confirmed in a statement Thursday evening that the Justice Department had informed the committee in May that the investigation was closed. Still, he said, “I believe more answers are needed, which is why I believe the Inspector General should investigate this and other cases that suggest the weaponization of law enforcement by a corrupt president.”

The Justice Department informed the intelligence panel in May that the matter had not transferred to any other entity or investigative body, the committee official said, and the department confirmed that again today.

The committee has continued to seek additional information, but the Justice Department has not been forthcoming in a timely manner, including on questions such as whether the investigation was properly predicated and whether it only targeted Democrats.

The news follows revelations that the Justice Department had secretly seized phone records belonging to reporters at The New York Times, The Washington Post and CNN as part of criminal leak investigations. Following an outcry from press freedom organizations, the Justice Department announced last week that it would cease the practice of going after journalists’ sourcing information.

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