US to investigate Trump-era seizures of Democrats’ phone data

The Justice Department’s internal watchdog has launched an investigation into efforts by former President Donald Trump’s administration to secretly seize the communications data of Democrats in the United States House of Representatives.

The announcement by Inspector General Michael Horowitz came shortly after Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco made the request on Friday. Horowitz said he would examine whether the data turned over by Apple followed the department policy and “whether any such uses, or the investigations, were based upon improper considerations”.

Reports had emerged on Thursday that the Trump administration seized phone data from House Democrats in 2018 as part of an aggressive leaks investigation.

Democratic Representatives Adam Schiff and Eric Swalwell were notified that the Justice Department under Trump had seized their metadata from Apple three years ago as part of an aggressive crackdown on leaks related to the Russia investigation and other national security matters, according to three people familiar with the seizures who spoke to The Associated Press news agency.Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Illinois Senator Dick Durbin said in a statement on Friday that former Attorney Generals William Barr and Jeff Sessions “must testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee” and are subject to a subpoena if they refuse.

Schiff and Swalwell were serving on the House Intelligence Committee at the time. Schiff is now the chairman.

While the Justice Department routinely conducts investigations of leaked information, including classified intelligence, opening such an investigation into members of Congress is extraordinarily rare. The disclosures reveal one branch of the government using its powers of investigation and prosecution to spy on another.

Metadata

The records of at least 12 people connected to the intelligence panel were eventually shared by the company.

The Justice Department obtained metadata — probably records of calls, texts and locations — but not other content from the devices, like photos, messages or emails, according to one of the people. Another said Apple complied with the subpoena, providing the information to the Justice Department, and did not immediately notify the members of Congress or the committee about the disclosure.

Apple informed the committee last month that the records had been shared and that the investigation had been closed, but did not give extensive detail. Also seized were the records of aides, former aides and family members, one of them a minor, according to the committee official.

 

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