The Department of Justice’s inspector-general is now looking into whether the Trump administration improperly sought warrants on communications by members of Congress and media, after leading Democrats denounced the practice.
The DOJ IG Michael Horowitz announced on Friday he was “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,” during the investigation into leaks of classified information to reporters by government officials.
Department of Justice Inspector General Michael E. Horowitz announced today the initiation of a Review of the DOJ’s Use of Subpoenas & Other Legal Authorities to Obtain Communication Records of Members of Congress and Affiliated Persons, and the News Mediahttps://t.co/sMbYCmldjupic.twitter.com/Ft0JRYvMGN
— Justice OIG (@JusticeOIG) June 11, 2021
The review will check if the DOJ complied with its policies and procedures and whether the subpoenas or the investigations themselves were “based upon improper considerations,” Horowitz added.
His announcement was spurred by a New York Times report that the DOJ issued subpoenas to Apple in 2017 and 2018, seeking communications records for representatives Adam Schiff and Eric Swalwell, California Democrats and members of the House Intelligence Committee at the time. The Trump administration reportedly sought the records as part of the investigation to see whether Schiff and Swalwell leaked classified information to reporters as part of the Democrats’ probe into alleged ties between President Donald Trump and Russia – the infamous ‘Russiagate’ scandal that eventually came to nothing.
There are few attributes more contemptible in a politician than placing themselves above the citizenry they are supposed to be serving, believing themselves immune from the burdens they impose on ordinary Americans. That’s Schiff and Swalwell.https://t.co/enOjiTFSwD
— Glenn Greenwald (@ggreenwald) June 11, 2021
“This baseless investigation, while now closed, is yet another example of Trump’s corrupt weaponization of justice,” Schiff tweeted on Thursday. Swalwell accused Trump of showing “an utter disdain for our democracy and the rule of law” and compared him to “the world’s most despicable dictators.”
As journalist Glenn Greenwald pointed out, however, Schiff and Swalwell have long been advocates of warrantless government spying on Americans, helping deliver just enough Democrat votes to block a bipartisan proposal for surveillance reform in 2018.
Later, during his push to impeach the president over aid to Ukraine, Schiff had subpoenaed the phone logs of Trump attorneys Rudy Giuliani and Jaw Sekulow, ranking member of the Intelligence Committee Devin Nunes (R-California) and journalist John Solomon, among others – and then made them public in his December 2019 report.
Reports that the DOJ had looked into Schiff and Swalwell came after weeks-long outrage by corporate media about the Trump administration seeking records from CNN, the New York Times, and the Washington Post. In response, the Biden administration announced it was ending the “longstanding practice” because seizing reporters’ records is “not consistent with the president’s policy.”
This is not the first Horowitz probe into problematic practices at the DOJ. In March 2018, he embarked on an investigation of the FBI’s probe of Trump-Russia allegations and potential abuse of FISA warrants to spy on the president’s campaign and administration. Leading Democrats objected, with Judiciary Committee ranking member Jerry Nadler (D-New York) calling the FISA abuse “a conspiracy theory as fact-free, openly political, and thoroughly debunked.”
A subsequent review of FISA procedures looked at a sample of 29 applications from a dataset 700. They found an average of 20 errors in each one.
In December 2019, Horowitz delivered a report that found “basic, fundamental, and serious errors” made in the FBI’s initial Trump-Russia probe that amounted to a “failure” by the “entire chain of command.” They also confirmed the Republican claim that the FISA warrants to spy on Trump – via campaign aide Carter Page – were based on the unsubstantiated Steele Dossier.
Almost no one was punished for this misconduct, however. FBI lawyer Kevin Clinesmith, who confessed to altering evidence in order to obtain the warrant, was sentenced in January to a year of probation, a $100 fine and 400 hours of community service.
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