Speed Reads

Secret Subpoenas

Trump Justice Department reportedly subpoenaed records of Trump's White House counsel in 2018

The Justice Department was apparently quite busy issuing controversial subpoenas in February 2018, secretly seeking phone and email records of journalists, members of Congress and their staff, and — several news organizations reported Sunday — the president's own White House counsel, Don McGahn. Apple informed McGahn and his wife last month that it had complied with a Feb. 23, 2018, subpoena for information about accounts that belong to them, The New Your Times first reported. The company did not tell them what information it turned over to the Justice Department and said it was barred from informing them earlier.

The Times and The Associated Press called the DOJ's decision to secretly seize a sitting White House counsel's data "extraordinary," while The Washington Post called it "striking." But the news organizations could only speculate as to why the Trump administration wanted McGahn's records.

The three most likely scenarios, the Times says, are that the DOJ was investigating who told the Times and Post that Trump had ordered McGahn to fire Special Counsel Robert Mueller, prompting McGahn to threaten to resign; that Mueller's grand jury in Virginia has subpoenaed McGahn's records as part of the investigation of Trump's campaign and Russia; or that the McGahn subpoena was part of an aggressive investigation of leaks about the Russia investigations.

McGahn, the top lawyer for Trump's 2016 campaign, cooperated extensively with Mueller's investigation, and the leak about firing Mueller didn't involve national security, making it questionable a judge would sign off on secret subpoenas. The Justice Department did order Apple on Feb. 6, 2018, to turn over information on 73 phone numbers and 33 email addresses, including records for at least 12 people connected to the House Intelligence Committee, Apple says.

McGahn's records may have been swept up in Justice Department subpoenas to identify phone numbers and email account information of people who were in contact with the subject of an investigation. 

Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz said Friday he will investigate the Trump administration's use of subpoenas and "other legal authorities" to obtain leak information from the media and government officials. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) on Sunday threatened to compel testimony, if necessary, from top Justice Department national security official John Demers, who Trump appointed in February 2018 and is still serving until President Biden's nominee is confirmed.