The Justice Department’s watchdog, the Office of the Inspector General (OIG), announced on June 11 that it’s starting an internal review into the department’s efforts during the Trump administration to obtain records of lawmakers and journalists.
“The DOJ Office of the Inspector General is initiating a review of DOJ’s use of subpoenas and other legal authorities to obtain communication records of Members of Congress and affiliated persons, and the news media in connection with recent investigations of alleged unauthorized disclosures of information to the media by government officials,” Inspector General Michael Horowitz said in a statement.
“The review will examine the Department’s compliance with applicable DOJ policies and procedures, and whether any such uses, or the investigations, were based upon improper considerations. If circumstances warrant, the OIG will consider other issues that may arise during the review.”
The announcement came after news emerged, as first reported by The New York Times on June 10, that prosecutors in the DOJ under the Trump administration had issued subpoenas to Apple in 2017 and 2018 seeking data from people associated with the House Intelligence Committee, as part of a probe to find out who was behind leaks of classified information related to the Russia investigation and other national-security issues.
Last month, Apple reportedly notified at least 12 people that they were being investigated via the grand jury subpoenas the DOJ had issued. Among them were Trump critics Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), now the committee’s chair, and Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.), a committee member, as well as their aides and family members. According to the NY Times, the data Apple provided didn’t establish any ties between the California politicians and the leaks.
Lawmakers didn’t know they were being investigated until Apple informed them last month, after a gag order on the company secured by the DOJ had expired this year.
Schiff called for an inspector general inquiry on June 10, and accused former President Donald Trump of having “repeatedly and flagrantly 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.”
In a June 10 statement, Swalwell confirmed that his Apple data was seized; he echoed Schiff’s call for an OIG investigation.
Separately on June 11, two Senate Democrats—Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin (D-Ill.)—demanded that two former U.S. attorneys general, William Barr and Jeff Sessions, testify before Congress about the reported subpoenas of records, or else face a subpoena.
Barr on June 11 told Politico that after he became attorney general in 2019, he was “not aware of any congressman’s records being sought in a leak case.”
Apple confirmed on June 11 that it had received a subpoena in February 2018 seeking customer information for 73 phone numbers and 36 email addresses, not all of which were Apple customers.
The subpoena came with a gag order from a federal judge and “provided no information on the nature of the investigation, and it would have been virtually impossible for Apple to understand the intent of the desired information without digging through users’ accounts,” Apple stated.
The company said it limited the information it provided to metadata and account subscriber information, and that it didn’t provide any content such as emails or pictures in response to the Justice Department subpoena.
The DOJ notified journalists at The New York Times, The Washington Post, and CNN in recent weeks that their records had been subpoenaed, also as part of criminal leak investigations under the Trump administration. Following outcry from news organizations and press freedom groups, the DOJ announced last week that as part of leak investigations, it would no longer secretly obtain reporters’ records.
Reuters contributed to this report.