Three senior Trump administration officials at the Department of Justice Department have all denied knowing anything about secret subpoenas seizing the phone records of Democratic lawmakers.
The denials by former attorney generals Jeff Sessions and Bill Barr and former deputy AG Rod Rosenstein came after it was revealed last week federal prosecutors seized data from Apple from two Democratic lawmakers on the House Intelligence Committee, as well as that of their staff and family members.
Those targeted were Trump critics California Democratic Reps. Adam Schiff, who was the panel’s top Democrat and is now its chairman, and Eric Swalwell.
The record seizures came in 2017 and early 2018 as the department investigated leaks of classified information relating to contacts between the Trump administration and the Russian government, the New York Times first reported.
But sources close to Sessions, who was AG when the subpoenas were issued in January 2018, said he wasn’t aware or not briefed on any snooping on Congress, the Daily Beast reported. At the time Sessions had already recused himself from the DOJ's Russia probe, and could've also recused himself from leaks probes relating to it, Business Insider noted.
Barr, who was tapped by Trump to replace Sessions about a year after the subpoenas were issued, told Politico he was "not aware of any congressman's records being sought in a leak case."
"I never discussed the leak cases with Trump. He didn't really ask me any of the specifics,” Barr told the news outlet.
And Rosenstein, who served as deputy to both Sessions and Barr before leaving the Justice Department in 2019, also said he knew of no snooping subpoenas, CNN reported.
Mary McCord, who formerly headed the National Security Division, reportedly said targeting an elected official would require a lot more than a standard green light.
"All I can say is that any investigation involving an elected official would be considered a sensitive matter that would need high-level approval at the department," she told Politico.
Apple said the subpoena, which came with a gag order from a federal judge, "provided no information on the nature of the investigation and it would have been virtually impossible for Apple to understand the intent of the desired information without digging through users’ accounts,” Reuters reported Friday.
Apple said it limited the information it provided to metadata and account subscriber information, and that it did not provide any content such as emails or pictures in response to the Justice Department subpoena.
Also on Friday, Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz said he’d investigate the department's efforts under Trump to seize the communications data of lawmakers and members of the news media, Reuters reported.
In a statement, Horowitz 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." He said his inquiry could expand if unspecified "other issues" arise during the probe.
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