The Justice Department subpoenaed and seized data from Apple and another internet service provider on the communications of at least two Democratic members of Congress in 2017 and 2018, The New York Times reports.
The Democrats were both on the House Intelligence Committee, and one, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), was its chair; the other was not identified in the report. But Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA), who serves on the committee, told CNN he was informed his data had also been seized.
Donald Trump’s administration took the extraordinary step while investigating leaks of classified information early on in his term. Federal officials even went so far as to subpoena the iPhone maker for communications data on the aides and family members of the two Democrats, including a minor. All in all, according to the Times, the DOJ under both Attorneys General Jeff Sessions and William Barr requisitioned data on a dozen people connected to the Democrats on the committee.
The metadata on the committee members’ communications reportedly did not tie them to any leaks. Apple did not send information on the content of the communications such as photos, emails, or text messages, only metadata and account information, the Times reports. The Justice Department did not issue a statement.
Schiff said in a statement, “The politicization of the department and the attacks on the rule of law are among the most dangerous assaults on our democracy carried out by the former president.”
The DOJ reportedly notified Schiff in May that the inquiry had concluded. He called for the department’s inspector general to investigate the case, and House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi echoed his statements.
The investigations themselves were focused on leaks of classified information on conversations between Trump’s aides and the Russian ambassador to the U.S. as well as former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn.
CNN later confirmed the report, citing a member of the Intelligence Committee who said, “Individuals associated with the Committee — including members, current and former staff of the Committee, and their family members, including minor children—were notified last month by Apple that the Department of Justice had issued grand jury subpoenas in February 2018 for their information. The breadth of these requests for information, a long list which included the Chairman, and the potentially partisan nature of the subpoenas, raised troubling questions.” The committee member said that the DOJ “has not been forthcoming” with details on the investigations and subpoenas.
Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi, who serves on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, called the news a “flashing red light.”
“The news that the Trump Justice Department was weaponized against Members of Congress, their aides, and their family members through this surveillance shows again how little President Trump and former Attorneys General Sessions and Barr respected our democratic institutions, we need to strengthen the guardrails of our democracy to prevent anything like this from happening again in the future,” he said in a statement to The Daily Beast.
The news comes on the heels of weeks of revelations about the Justice Department’s efforts to spy on the phone records of reporters from multiple news organizations, legal offensives that involved taking gag orders out on the outlets’ executives as well as Google and Apple.
The orders prohibited executives from disclosing the leak probes to their newsrooms. The DOJ under both Trump and Joe Biden engaged in a lengthy legal battle to obtain email and phone records from reporters for The New York Times, The Washington Post, and CNN, though Biden’s administration eventually withdrew it and Biden called the practice “simply, simply wrong.” Times executive editor Dean Baquet said the incursion “profoundly undermines press freedom.”
— Sam Brodey contributed reporting