Democratic Representative Adam Schiff said Donald Trump’s Justice Department broke rules brought in after Watergate by secretly trawling his communications to try and identify the source of embarrassing leaks.
Schiff and his fellow representative Eric Swalwell had data from their Apple devices seized and analysed as part of a probe revealed Thursday.
And Schiff – who also sits on the House Intelligence Committee – shared his outrage with Chris Cuomo on CNN Thursday.
He told Cuomo he had never heard of a White House administration opening such a probe, adding: ‘And you know we brought about these new norms after Watergate to prevent exactly this kind of abuse. But they didn’t survive this presidency and — but it is shocking.’
Schiff and Swalwell – both members of the House Intelligence Committee – had metadata taken from their devices by Justice Department prosecutors as officials tried to work out who was leaking information about meetings between Trump associates and Russian leaders.
Former Attorney General Jeff Sessions began the probe in 2017, with more records seized in 2018. A dozen people with links to the House Intelligence Committee – which is privy to classified intelligence – had their metadata examined.
Their family members – including one minor child – were also targeted, amid concerns the suspected leakers may have been using children’s devices to try and cover their tracks.
Justice Department prosecutors also sought a gag order to keep the probe secret, with none of those whose data was targeted aware of what was going on.
Justice Department prosecutors seized metadata records from Apple for accounts belonging to Rep. Adam Schiff, pictured, and other members of the House Intelligence Committee
Democratic Rep. Eric Swalwell, pictured, revealed he also had data from their Apple devices secretly seized by the Trump administration
They finally found last month, with Schiff and Swalwell both sharing their outrage in separate CNN interviews on Thursday night.
Schiff told Chris Cuomo he was ‘shocked but not surprised’ by the ‘terrible abuse of the rule of law,’ and called for an inquiry into the DoJ probe.
He added: ‘I love my experience there. And to see how it was turned into this bludgeon to go after the president’s enemies and a shield to protect those who lied for him, people like Roger stone and Mike Flynn and others, it’s disgraceful, but it’s also, such a body blow to our democracy.’
Schiff also told the Times: ‘It is increasingly apparent that those demands did not fall on deaf ears.’
‘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.’
Speaking on Don Lemon’s show later on Thursday, Swalwell said: ‘It’s wrong. This is what they do – they smear.’
The subpoenas which were used to obtain the information were first revealed to the The New York Times.
Trump and his administration were infuriated after detailed conversations between his aides and the Russian ambassador to the US were leaked shortly after he took office in January 2017.
The revelations show the extent of Trump’s obsession over leaks and the extraordinary lengths his administration would go through to investigate them
They are said to have identified then-FBI director James Comey and his deputy Andrew McCabe as possible sources for leaks, as well as the House Intelligence Committee.
Embarrassing leaks included details of Trump’s first national security Michael flynn’s conversations with Russian ambassador to the US Sergey Kislyak. Flynn was later fired and charged, then later convicted, for lying to the FBI about his contact with Russia. He was later pardoned by Trump.
The seized data ultimately did not tie members of the House Intelligence Committee – including Schiff – to leaks to the press regarding contacts between associates of Donald Trump and Russia, the outlet reported. Exactly how much was seized remains unknown.
Schiff and other members of the committee had access to secret material, including intelligence on the Trump administration’s ties to Russians.
The Justice Department also secured a gag order against Apple preventing them from telling the lawmakers they were being investigated, sources told the outlet. That gag order finally expired this year and Apple told the committee members that they were investigated last month.
Those investigators, who worked under then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions, discussed if the Justice Department should close its investigation into the leaks of the classified information to the press.
Schiff released a statement on Thursday addressing the revelations
Sessions, 74, was ultimately forced out as Attorney General and replaced by William Barr – who revived attempts to investigate Schiff and his alleged connection to information leaks, The New York Times reported.
He is said to have done so after accusing investigators tasked with trying to identify the leakers of deliberately dragging their heels.
Barr even moved Osmar Benvenuto, a New Jersey prosecutor, to the main Justice Department offices in February 2020 to work on the case related to Schiff and about six others, sources told the outlet.
A former Justice Department leak investigator David Laufman also condemned the probes begun by Sessions and continued by Barr.
He said: ‘Notwithstanding whether there was sufficient predication for the leak investigation itself, including family members and minor children strikes me as extremely aggressive.
‘In combination with former President Trump’s unmistakable vendetta against Congressman Schiff, it raises serious questions about whether the manner in which this investigation was conducted was influenced by political considerations rather than purely legal ones.’
Prosecutors also subpoenaed records from news reporters at The Washington Post, The New York Times and CNN in an attempt to identify their confidential sources, which also remained secret until the Justice Department recently disclosed them.
The revelations show the extent of Trump’s obsession over leaks and the extraordinary lengths his administration would go through to investigate them.
The Justice Department routinely investigates leaks of classified information – though officials noted to The New York Times that they could not recall any time when a lawmaker’s records had been seized.
‘President Trump repeatedly and fragrantly demanded that the Department of Justice carry out his political will, and tried to use the Department as a cudgel against his political opponents and members of the media,’ Schiff said in a statement released on Thursday.
‘It is increasingly apparent that those demands did not fall on deaf ears. 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.’
He added: ‘Though we were informed by the Department in May that this investigation is closed, 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.’
News reports based on sensitive or classified information began to surface almost immediately after Trump was inaugurated in 2017.
Among the first leaks, to The New York Times, included details of conversations between Sergey I. Kislyak, then Russia’s ambassador to the United States, and some of Trump’s top aides.
U.S. intelligence agencies had already started investigating if the Trump campaign colluded with Russians in attempts to influence the 2016 presidential election. Trump’s White House was resolved to prosecute anyone who leaked information to the press.
The Justice Department started to look into Obama administration national security officials and opened cases focusing on former FBI director James Comey and former FBI Deputy Director deputy Andrew McCabe, sources told The New York Times.
A grand jury subpoenaed Apple and another internet service provider, which was not revealed, for the the committee’s Democratic members, aides and even members of their families – including a minor, The New York Times reported.
It was not clear if any Republicans were also subpoenaed and the outlet noted that the records for members of the Senate Intelligence Committee were seemingly not subpoenaed.