- 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.