Top Justice Department officials Sessions, Barr and Rosenstein all deny knowledge of secret subpoenas targeting Democratic lawmakers

Barr and Sessions
Attorney General William Barr, left, stands with former Attorney General Jeff Sessions, right, following a farewell ceremony for Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein in the Great Hall at the Department of Justice in Washington, Thursday, May 9, 2019.

  • Former attorney generals Jeff Sessions and Bill Barr have denied knowledge of secret DoJ subpoenas.
  • The subpoenas targeted Democratic lawmakers as part of a leaks probe.
  • The DoJ has not revealed who authorized the phone records seizure, likened by critics to the tactics of authoritarian regimes.
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Former attorney generals Jess Sessions and Bill Barr and former Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein have all denied knowledge of secret subpoenas seizing the phone records of Democratic lawmakers as part of a leaks probe.

Last week it was revealed that during Donald Trump’s presidency the Justice Department used subpoenas to obtain information from Apple about at least two Democrat members of the House Intelligence Committee.

The orders targeted not just the lawmakers but their office staff and families, including one minor.

Among those whose records were seized were House Intelligence Committee chairman Adam Schiff, and Rep. Chris Swalwell of California. Both were prominent critics of Trump.

The information was sought as part of a probe into who was leaking information about intelligence and investigations into alleged Trump campaign collusion with Russia and other national security issues to media outlets

One of the key questions is who signed off the subpoenas, which House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has described as an “egregious assault on our democracy” by the Trump administration.

Trump repeatedly called for political opponents to be jailed during his time in office.

The three senior Trump administration officials at the Justice Department have all denied knowledge of the subpoenas.

  • Sources close to Sessions, who served as attorney general when the subpoenas were issued in January 2018, said he was not aware of, or briefed on, the reported seizure of the phone records, reported The Daily Beast. At the time Sessions had recused himself from the DoJ’s Russia probe, and could’ve also recused himself from leaks probes relating to it.
  • Bill Barr, who was appointed by Trump to replace Sessions about a year after the subpoenas were issued also denied knowledge of the seizure of the phone records. Barr told Politico that while he was attorney general, he was “not aware of any congressman’s records being sought in a leak case.” he added: “I never discussed the leak cases with Trump. He didn’t really ask me any of the specifics.”
  • Rod Rosenstein, who served as deputy to both Sessions and Barr before leaving the Justice Department in 2019, has also told people he had no knowledge of the subpoenas, CNN reported.

Mary McCord, who formerly headed the National Security Division, which handles leak probes, told Politico that a subpoena targeting an elected official “would be considered a sensitive matter that would need high-level approval at the department.”

John Demers, a Trump appointee, headed the National Security Division when the subpoenas were issued, and still holds the position.

“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 when reached for comment.

The subpoena included a gag order preventing Apple from disclosing that the data had been seized, but that order was not renewed this year, meaning that Apple could inform the people whose data had been seized.

Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz has launched an investigation into the seizure of the records from lawmakers, as well as from reporters at outlets including The Washington Post, CNN, and The New York Times.

The investigation will focus on the “DOJ’s use of subpoenas and other legal authorities”, said the Justice Department in a statement Friday.

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The Biden DOJ is trying to block the release of a 2019 memo that outlined reasons not to prosecute Trump after the Mueller report

merrick garland
Attorney General Merrick Garland.

  • The Department of Justice is appealing the full release of a 2019 memo on the Mueller report.
  • Then-AG Bill Barr cited the memo among his grounds to not charge Trump with obstruction of justice.
  • A federal judge recently ordered the release of the document, saying Barr was misleading.
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The Department of Justice has said it will appeal a federal court order requiring it to release a 2019 memo that was cited by then-Attorney General Bill Barr as grounds not to charge former President Donald Trump with obstruction of justice following Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report.

The memo was written by officials at the DOJ’s Office of Legal Counsel, and addressed the evidence in the Mueller report on whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia during the 2016 election, and whether Trump sought to obstruct Mueller’s investigation.

Barr had cited the memo as one of his reasons not to bring charges against Trump on the basis of the report.

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Then-President Donald Trump and then-Attorney General Bill Barr in the White House Rose Garden in July 2019.

But in a May 5 ruling, federal judge Amy Berman Jackson ordered that the memo be released, arguing that the DOJ’s grounds for keeping it sealed on the basis that it is a “deliberative document” were false.

Berman made the ruling following a Freedom of Information Act request from the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics.

Under Freedom of Information Act rules, “deliberative documents” that are used to make government decisions are exempt from public release.

The unredacted document is expected to provide new insights into one of the key controversies of the Trump era: Why the president was not charged by his DOJ with obstruction despite some evidence in the report indicating that he had sought to derail the Mueller probe.

Barr was heavily criticized after the release of the Mueller report, with some saying he misled the public ahead of the release about the seriousness of the misconduct that Mueller’s investigators uncovered.

A heavily redacted, 1 1/2-page report was released Monday night

The DOJ released a page and a half of the memo on Monday night, with large sections of the document analyzing Trump’s conduct as described in the Mueller report from a legal perspective still redacted.

Mueller had declined to reach a conclusion on the accusation Trump obstructed justice, citing DOJ rules against bringing charges against a sitting president.

But in the unredacted sections just released, officials at the DOJ’s Office of Legal Counsel wrote that Mueller’s position “might be read to imply such an accusation if the confidential report were released to the public.”

“Therefore, we recommend that you examine the Report to determine whether prosecution would be appropriate” to resolve any potential legal ambiguity,” the memo said.

The newly-released memo said that there was insufficient evidence in the Mueller report to charge Trump with obstruction, but the specific grounds by which they reached that decision were unclear as that part remains redacted.

In her order for the DOJ memo to be released, Judge Jackson argued that Barr had falsely claimed that he was acting on the basis of the document in not charging Trump, whereas in reality he had made the decision already.

In its Monday filing, the DOJ said that “its briefs [to the court] could have been clearer, and it deeply regrets the confusion that caused. But the government’s counsel and declarants did not intend to mislead the Court.”

‘Detrimental to what American democracy is all about’

In a Monday interview with MSNBC, Neal Katyal, who served as acting Solicitor general under former President Barack Obama, slammed the DOJ’s decision to appeal the release of the ful report.

“We waited and waited and waited and to bury this is, I think, detrimental to what American democracy is all about,” he remarked.

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The Trump Justice Department tried forcing Twitter to reveal the identity of a Devin Nunes parody account

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In this Oct. 19, 2018 file photo, President Donald Trump speaks during a ceremony to sign a “Presidential Memorandum Promoting the Reliable Supply and Delivery of Water in the West,” Friday, Oct. 19, 2018, in Scottsdale, Ariz.. Standing behind the president is Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif.

  • The Trump Department of Justice tried to force Twitter to say who was behind the account, @NunesAlt.
  • The account makes fun of Rep. Devin Nunes, a California Republican and Trump loyalist.
  • “I’m learning about this just as everyone else is,” the person behind @NunesAlt told Insider.
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The US Department of Justice tried to use its subpoena power to reveal the identity of a person on Twitter who made fun of one of former Donald Trump’s top allies in Congress, according to a court document revealed Monday.

According to the document, first reported by The Wall Street Journal’s Kevin Poulsen, the department – then under the control of former Attorney General William Barr – last year sought to compel Twitter to reveal who was behind the account, @NunesAlt.

The action came months after a judge threw out a lawsuit from Rep. Devin Nunes, a California Republican and Trump loyalist, which had alleged that the account and others like it were guilty of defamation.

Specifically, the Justice Department sought all “customer or subscriber account information” for @NunesAlt, beginning October 1, 2020. It also fought to prevent the demand from being made public, claiming that doing so could lead to the destruction of evidence.

Twitter, however, noted the timing in its response to the Justice Department’s demand. In the filing, which had been kept out of the public eye until now, the company said the subpoena “may be related to Congressman Devin Nunes’s repeated efforts to unmask individuals behind parody accounts critical of him.” Twitter characterized those efforts as an attempt “to suppress critical speech.”

A spokesperson for Nunes did not immediately return a request for comment. After losing the 2020 election, Trump gave Nunes the Presidential Medal of Freedom, thanking the lawmaker for his steadfast commitment to defending him.

The person behind @NunesAlt, meanwhile, told Insider they were befuddled by the latest development, which came as a total shock.

“I’m learning about this just as everyone else is,” they said.

Have a news tip? Email this reporter: cdavis@insider.com

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AG Bill Barr reportedly told a US attorney ‘I am going to f—ing fire your a–‘ if he talked to Matt Gaetz about DOJ business

Bill Barr
Attorney General Bill Barr has called China and Huawei a “monumental danger” to US economic and national security interests.

  • Bill Barr threatened to fire a US attorney after he spoke with Matt Gaetz about DOJ business, Politico reported.
  • “If I ever hear of you talking to Gaetz … I am going to f—ing fire your a–,” Barr said.
  • He reportedly made the threat last year, while the DOJ was investigating Gaetz for sex trafficking.
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Then-Attorney General Bill Barr was furious last year after a US attorney close to Rep. Matt Gaetz spoke to the lawmaker about Justice Department business, Politico reported Wednesday.

“If I ever hear of you talking to Gaetz or any other congressman again about business before the department, I am going to f—ing fire your a–,” Barr reportedly told Larry Keefe, Gaetz’s former law partner who then-President Donald Trump later tapped to lead the US attorney’s office for the Northern District of Florida.

The threat came as Keefe was looking to launch an investigation into purported voter fraud in Florida while then-Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden was on the cusp of being the party’s nominee for the general election, according to Politico.

The exact timing of Barr’s phone call to Keefe is not clear, but it took place in the late summer or early fall, as the department was also investigating whether Gaetz had sex with a minor and broke federal sex-trafficking laws.

Sources familiar with the matter told Politico that lawyers in the Justice Department’s Public Integrity Section were concerned that the scope of the investigation Keefe wanted was too broad. Keefe, meanwhile, is said to have discussed the situation with Gaetz. The Florida lawmaker told Politico that he and Keefe had just spoken broadly about “legal doctrine related to jurisdiction and venue” and not about the specifics of any investigation.

Eventually, Trump learned of their conversation, and Gaetz told Politico he’d spoken to the former president about voter fraud linked to absentee ballots, and then raised a legal theory Keefe had mentioned to him.

“I said to [Trump] that an appreciation for the Keefe position on venue would give good U.S. attorneys in every capital city the necessary jurisdiction to root out fraud,” Gaetz told Politico. “I also shared with President Trump that Keefe had faced substantial resistance from the Department of Justice.”

Gaetz said Trump told then-White House counsel Pat Cipollone, who was at the meeting, to discuss the idea with Barr. Upon hearing about the conversation, Barr became infuriated and called Keefe and threatened to fire him, Politico said.

Gaetz told the outlet he was not aware of the phone call but noted that he did get a call from Keefe saying he couldn’t discuss DOJ matters with Gaetz. Keefe told the outlet it was “not appropriate” for him to discuss his work as US attorney but that he stands by his decisions.

Barr was one of several senior Trump appointees at the department who were aware of – and greenlit – the investigation into Gaetz. Earlier this month, Politico reported that Barr specifically avoided being seen or photographed with Gaetz in public while the investigation was ongoing.

The New York Times revealed the existence of the Gaetz sex-trafficking probe late last month. The Republican lawmaker has denied any wrongdoing and said he never paid women for sex or had a sexual relationship with a minor as an adult man. Prosecutors are said to have zeroed in on Gaetz as part of a broader probe into his associate, the former Florida tax collector Joel Greenberg. Greenberg has been indicted on 33 felony counts, including carrying out the sex trafficking of a minor between the ages of 14 and 17.

Earlier this month, prosecutors and Greenberg’s defense attorneys told a federal judge that they were close to striking a plea deal.

“I’m sure Matt Gaetz is not feeling very comfortable today,” Greenberg’s lawyer, Fritz Scheller, told reporters afterward.

The Times later reported that Greenberg has been cooperating against Gaetz since last year.

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Trump reportedly asked his lawyer if he could personally appoint a special counsel to investigate Hunter Biden before leaving office

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President Trump is seen at the White House on November 26, 2020.

  • President Donald Trump is considering personally appointing a special counsel to investigate Hunter Biden in the waning weeks of his presidency, the Associated Press reported Tuesday.
  • Trump consulted White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, White House Counsel Pat Cipollone, and others on the possibility of appointing a special prosecutor to investigate Biden, whose business dealings in Ukraine were at the center of the president’s impeachment.
  • The report comes on the heels of Trump announcing Monday that outgoing Attorney General Bill Barr will be leaving the Justice Department before Christmas.
  • Trump was unhappy with Barr for not publicly announcing a federal investigation into Hunter Biden’s taxes, and later for saying the DOJ and the FBI found no evidence of widespread voter fraud, contradicting baseless conspiracy theories from the president and his allies.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

President Donald Trump asked his lawyer if he could personally appoint a special counsel to investigate Hunter Biden in the waning weeks of his presidency, the Associated Press reported Tuesday.

Trump brought up the matter of appointing a special counsel to investigate the son of President-elect Joe Biden to White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, White House Counsel Pat Cipollone, and others, Trump officials and Republicans close to the White House told the AP.

The sources also told the AP that Trump is considering appointing a special counsel to investigate his unsubstantiated claims of election fraud.

Representatives from the White House did not immediately return Business Insider’s request for comment.

The report comes on the heels of Trump announcement Monday that outgoing Attorney General Bill Barr will be leaving the Justice Department before Christmas. Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen will be acting attorney general in Barr’s absence.

Read more: Trump announces Attorney General William Barr will be leaving the Justice Department before Christmas

Trump was unhappy with Barr for not publicly announcing a federal investigation into Hunter Biden’s taxes, according to the AP report. The president was also displeased with Barr, saying that the Justice Department and the FBI didn’t find evidence of widespread voter fraud, contradicting Trump’s election-related conspiracy theories.

Rosen said he was “honored” to fulfill the role as the nation’s top cop and said he “will continue to focus on the implementation of the Department’s key priorities.”

The question remains if the acting attorney general will succumb to the pressure from the president to carry out investigations into his political opponents as Trump enters his final few weeks in office. The president “has even asked his team of lawyers, including personal attorney Rudy Giuliani, to look into whether the president has the power to appoint a special counsel himself,” citing the AP report.

If the probe were to be taken up by the Justice Department under the Trump administration, it would likely be “a more prolonged and complicated investigation” than the current probe into Hunter Biden’s taxes, the AP reported.

The investigation could extend past Joe Biden’s inauguration on January 20, which would then place the onus upon the incoming administration to keep Rosen or appoint another attorney general. The attorney general reserves the power to terminate special counsel investigations – but only “for specific reasons such as misconduct, dereliction of duty or conflict of interest,” according to the AP.

Read the full story at the AP ยป

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Attorney General Bill Barr may leave office before the end of Trump’s term: NYT

Trump Barr
Barr has been considered a staunch defender of the president.

  • Attorney General Bill Barr is considering leaving office before President Donald Trump’s term ends in January, The New York Times reported.
  • The report comes after Barr broke from the president last week and said the Justice Department and the FBI had not found evidence of widespread voter fraud that would alter the results of the 2020 election.
  • Barr has been considered a staunch defender of the president, but when asked whether he still has confidence in the attorney general, Trump said “ask me that in a number of weeks.”
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

US Attorney General Bill Barr is considering leaving office before President Donald Trump’s term ends in January, The New York Times reported.

The report comes after Barr broke from the president last week and said the Justice Department had not found evidence of widespread voter fraud that would alter the results of the 2020 election.

Three sources reportedly told the Times that Barr may leave before Trump exits office; one said the attorney general was considering it since before his statement about the election last week.

The Justice Department did not immediately respond to Business Insider’s request for comment.

Barr has been considered one of the president’s most staunch defenders. Prior to the election, he even echoed one of Trump’s claims that mail-in ballots could be susceptible to interference by foreign actors, something US intelligence officials did not find evidence to support.

The president has not said much publicly in response to Barr. But when asked recently whether he still has confidence in the attorney general, Trump said “ask me that in a number of weeks.”

The Washington Post reported last week that Trump advisors are trying to stop the president from firing Barr.

Despite Barr’s statement, the president has continued to make unsubstantiated claims about widespread voter fraud. Before Barr spoke out, Trump even suggested, without evidence, that the federal government, including Barr’s department, might be involved.

While Trump has continued to cast doubt on the election results, enough states have certified their results to secure an electoral college victory for President-elect Joe Biden.

Some of Trump’s allies have also criticized Barr for not doing more in service of the president’s attempts to change the results of the election.

“With all due respect to the Attorney General, there hasn’t been any semblance of a Department of Justice investigation,” Trump attorneys Rudy Giuliani and Jenna Ellis said in a statement.

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