(CNN) — We first learned that former President Donald Trump’s Justice Department secretly obtained records on communications from members of the press.
Then we learned that he was secretly seeking data on the communications of his political enemies in Congress.
Now we learn that he was secretly seeking information about communications from Trump’s own White House attorney, Don McGahn.
The jolting of revelations raises more questions than it answers about why the Department of Justice – the federal agency charged with upholding the rule of law in the United States, regardless of politics – was so invested in people’s businesses than it was then. President considered his enemies.
Add to the years of alarming public disclosures of what the department did under Trump, the realization that the department under Biden hasn’t exactly been forthcoming with what happened under the previous leadership.
Democrats are preparing for a full-scale investigation of the whole thing. Appearing on CNN, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi compared the Justice Department subpoenas to former President Richard Nixon’s infamous “list of enemies.”
Richard Nixon had a list of enemies. It’s about undermining the rule of law, “he said on CNN’s” State of the Union. “
Last Friday, before we knew that the Justice Department search for leaks was reaching inside the White House, I tried to lay out what we did and did not know about how the Justice Department was being used during the Trump era.
A lot happened over the weekend, so I spoke again with CNN crime and justice reporter Katelyn Polantz, as well as CNN’s Adam Levine, who oversees our coverage of this story, for their latest thoughts on what We all need to understand about what happened here. What is shown below is largely based on my conversations with them.
The pattern is the most worrying element
What we see is a pattern of unusual investigative steps in what appear to be leak investigations, almost all involving to some degree declared enemies of Trump, who held high government positions that generally would not have been so aggressively pursued.
It’s clear that the Justice Department was secretly searching for data on the accounts of a variety of reporters, politicians, people around politicians, and the White House attorney. Presumably, judges were looking for reasons from investigators to keep subpoenas and court data warrants secret, and investigative juries had reasons to investigate subpoena-worthy crimes. We just don’t know who the target of these investigations was.
There is a possibility that the Democratic House of Representatives lawmakers involved – that is, Representatives Adam Schiff and Eric Swalwell, both members of the House intelligence committee – may not have been specifically wanted with the February subpoena. 2018. We now know that Apple was instructed to turn over records for 109 phone numbers and emails. That large number suggests that researchers may have already extracted a target’s phone records and were looking to determine the identities of the numbers they found. On the other hand, we know that Trump was calling for leak investigations and declaring Schiff a leaker.
So a key question for Justice Department leaders now is this: If Schiff and Swalwell weren’t the target of these investigations, why doesn’t the Justice Department just come out and say that?
We must be careful not to group all these things
We have learned in quick succession about the Justice Department’s success in collecting data on reporters and seeking information on the political opposition investigating the campaign of the president and former White House attorney Don McGahn. That we have learned about them in quick succession does not necessarily mean that they are related.
We know that under Trump’s first attorney general, Jeff Sessions, the Justice Department had dozens of open leak investigations. (However, Sessions was excluded from the investigations involving Trump and Russia.) CNN also reported that under Sessions’ successor, William Barr, the Department was pushing to conclude the open investigations.
At least some of this research takes years
All of these subpoenas were under the Trump administration. We are learning about them now because the summary secrets related to them expire at the same time, or the new administration is abandoning investigative impulses.
But all the subpoenas to Apple and Microsoft and to media organizations that have been released in recent weeks were for investigations into events in 2017 and 2018, when Trump was publicly complaining about leaks.
So another way of looking at all of this is that the Justice Department may have collected data on communications from members of Congress and the White House attorney, and then kept it quiet even after Trump left office.
Trump’s public complaints suggest but do not prove he is linked to the investigations
The Justice Department is supposed to operate independently of political influence. What makes these revelations so concerning is that he specifically complained about the leaks to the press, and the Justice Department sought communications from the press. He complained that Democrats in Congress were leaking and the Justice Department sought communications from Democrats. He disagreed with McGahn, who was preventing Trump from firing then-special counsel Robert Mueller, and a month later the Justice Department was looking for McGahn’s data.
All of that sounds very bad, but it is also completely circumstantial. There are many things that we do not know about what caused each one. The inspector general of the Department of Justice will investigate.
Nobody wants to take responsibility for this
Sessions says he was unaware of the subpoenas from House Democrats. Barr told Politico last week he has no recollection of them at all, even though he lobbied for the pending leak investigations to be concluded. He even brought in a New Jersey prosecutor to oversee the completion of the cases, which could mean closing the cases as much as it could have been an impetus to prosecute them.
Despite this, neither Barr nor former Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein nor anyone else has professed to be aware of the efforts to investigate lawmakers. If they are to be believed, even after investigators learned they were in possession of Swalwell and Schiff’s information, they did not tell senior Justice Department officials or officials. If no one steps in to ensure that congressional speech protections are not mishandled, this would seem like an extraordinary violation of protocol and a potential separation of powers issue if prosecutors are operating completely unsupervised.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler announced Monday that his committee would open a formal investigation into the department’s surveillance of members of Congress, journalists and others.
“It is still possible that these cases… are isolated incidents. Even if these reports are unrelated, they raise serious constitutional and separation of powers concerns, ”he said in a statement. “Congress must make it extraordinarily difficult, if not impossible, for the Department to spy on Congress or the media. We should make it difficult for prosecutors to hide behind summary secrets for years. We cannot rely on the Department alone to make these changes. “
Also Monday, CNN reported that John Demers, the Trump-appointed head of the Justice Department’s national security division, will be leaving at the end of the month as planned.
Heed Subpoenas from House Democrats
It is one thing to seek information from journalists, who are actively reporting on the government. Another is to seek information on a White House attorney. There could potentially be legitimate reasons for both types of investigations and policies in place that would allow the Department of Justice to carry them out. We lean more toward the autocratic territory of a banana republic when federal prosecutors control political opposition, especially elected officials in another branch of government, through unusually aggressive leak investigations.
Pay special attention to Biden’s Attorney General Merrick Garland
The current attorney general met Monday with lawyers for news organizations subject to subpoenas from the Trump-era Justice Department. He also met with House Democrats, including Schiff, who was among the targeted Democrats. How quickly and transparently Garland can account for these investigations and secret subpoenas will have a lot to do with how big this story turns out to be.
In a statement Monday, Garland said his deputy secretary is already working on “bringing potentially problematic issues to the surface” and vowed to “strengthen the department’s existing policies and procedures for obtaining records from the legislature.”
“We must ensure that future separation of powers concerns are given full weight,” Garland said.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism