DOJ watchdog will examine reported Trump-era subpoenas from Apple, following knowledge from Democrats

U.S. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) speaks outside of a closed session to the House Intelligence, Foreign Affairs and Oversight Committees of the House of Representatives in Washington, DC on October 28, 2019. Capitol in front of media representatives. Also pictured are (LR) Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD) and Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA).

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The Justice Department’s internal watchdog office will investigate after a bomb report alleged that the Trump administration clandestinely summoned Apple over the House Democrats’ data, the office said on Friday.

The investigation will review the “use of subpoenas and other judicial authorities to obtain communications records” by members of Congress, their staff and the news media “in connection with the recent investigations into alleged unauthorized disclosure of information to the media by government officials”. This was announced by Inspector General Michael Horowitz in a statement.

The move follows a growing chorus of Democratic lawmakers, including the two whose records have reportedly been subpoenaed, demanding that the Justice Department inspector-general open an investigation into Trump-era behavior.

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The New York Times reported Thursday night that Trump’s Justice Department seized records in 2017 and early 2018 from at least a dozen people associated with the House Intelligence Committee, including the House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff, D-California, and that Committee member Eric Swalwell, D-Calif.

The agency also reportedly obtained data from the accounts of carers and family members, one of whom was a child.

Prosecutors for the DOJ, then headed by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, were looking for sources of harmful news of contacts between Trump employees and Russia, the report said.

When Trump’s prosecutors investigated the source of the leaks, they reportedly investigated the House of Representatives’ intelligence committee, whose members have access to sensitive documents.

The investigation did not link the House committee to the leaks – but Sessions replacement, William Barr, kept the investigation going, the Times reported.

U.S. President Donald Trump (left) speaks with William Barr, U.S. Attorney General, during the 38th annual National Peace Officers Memorial Day service at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, DC, May 15, 2019.

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Apple was silenced by a gag order that expired earlier this year, according to a company spokesman who confirmed the subpoena in a statement to CNBC on Friday evening.

“It would have been practically impossible for Apple to understand the intent of the information you want without sifting through the accounts of the users,” said Apple spokesman Fred Sainz. “In accordance with the request, Apple limited the information it provided to account subscriber information and did not provide content such as emails or images.”

Microsoft on Friday also confirmed a 2017 subpoena and gag order related to a personal email account.

“As soon as the gag rule expired, we notified the customer who told us he was a convention worker. We then gave the representative’s employees a briefing after this announcement, ”a Microsoft spokesman said in a statement to CNBC.

Assistant Attorney General Lisa Monaco referred the matter to the Justice Department’s inspector general, an agency official told CNBC on Friday.

Schiff welcomed the move in a statement as “an important first step”. But the watchdog investigation “will not eliminate the need for other forms of oversight and accountability – including public oversight by Congress – and the ministry must work together in those efforts,” Schiff said.

Monaco, the second official in the Justice Department, was ratified by the Senate in April. Horowitz has been Inspector General since 2012.

Horowitz said Friday that his investigation “will investigate the ministry’s compliance with applicable DOJ policies and procedures, and whether such use or investigations were based on improper considerations.

“If circumstances warrant, the OIG will consider other issues that may arise during the review,” he said, adding, “The review does not replace the OIG’s judgment on the legal and investigative judgments made in matters raised by OIG are checked, have been taken. “

The Times article came weeks after reports that the Trump administration had secretly received records from journalists from several news outlets.

On Thursday evening, Schiff called for an investigation into the Trump DOJ’s actions in “these and other cases that indicate the arming of law enforcement by a corrupt president”.

Trump had “tried to use the ministry as a club against his political opponents and media representatives,” Schiff said in a statement. “It is becoming increasingly clear that these demands have not fallen on deaf ears.”

Swalwell said in his own statement that Apple informed him last month that his files had been turned over to the Trump administration “as part of a politically motivated investigation into his supposed enemies.”

“Like many of the most despicable dictators in the world, former President Trump showed utter contempt for our democracy and the rule of law,” said Swalwell. “This kind of behavior is unacceptable, but unfortunately on the mark for a president who has repeatedly shown that he would put our constitution aside for his own benefit.”

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, DN.Y., and Senate Justice Committee Chairman Dick Durbin, D-Ill., Added Friday that Congress must obtain testimony from Sessions and Barr.

“The revelation that the Trump Justice Department secretly subpoenaed metadata from members and staff of the House Intelligence Committee and their families, including a minor, is shocking,” Schumer and Durbin said in a joint statement on Friday.

“This is a gross abuse of power and an attack on the separation of powers. This appalling politicization of the Justice Department by Donald Trump and his flatterers must be investigated immediately by both the DOJ Inspector General and Congress, ”said the Senate leaders.

“Former Barr and Sessions attorneys-general and other officials involved must testify under oath before the Senate Judiciary Committee. If they refuse, they will be summoned and forced to testify under oath, ”said Schumer and Durbin.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden, D-Ore., Also joined calls for a full investigation, saying he plans to introduce laws to increase transparency and reform “abuse of gag orders”.

“The current Justice Department needs to act with much greater urgency to both detect abuses and ensure full accountability of those responsible,” said Wyden.

Read the full New York Times report.

—Sara Salinas of CNBC contributed to this report.

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