DOJ inspector general to probe secret subpoenas of Democrats during Trump administration

Justice Department
(Image credit: BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images)

A report that the Department of Justice secretly subpoenaed records from Democrats as part of a leak investigation during the Trump administration has now prompted a watchdog review.

Department of Justice Inspector General Michael Horowitz on Friday announced his office will review the department's "use of subpoenas and other legal authorities to obtain communication records of members of Congress and affiliated persons, and the news media" during investigations into leaks of classified information.

The step came following a report from The New York Times that the DOJ under former President Donald Trump took the "highly unusual" step of subpoenaing Apple for data from the accounts of House Intelligence Committee Democrats critical of Trump, Reps. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) and Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.), and seized records of "at least a dozen people tied to the committee."

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The report drew a rebuke from Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), who on Friday slammed the "gross abuse of power" and threatened to subpoena former Attorney Generals Bill Barr and Jeff Sessions for testimony, The Washington Post reports.

"The revelation that the Trump Justice Department secretly subpoenaed metadata of House Intelligence Committee Members and staff and their families, including a minor, is shocking," Schumer and Durbin said, per the Post. "This appalling politicization of the Department of Justice by Donald Trump and his sycophants must be investigated immediately by both the DOJ Inspector General and Congress."

Barr distanced himself from the subpoenas of Democratic lawmakers in an interview with Politico on Friday, saying he was "not aware of any congressman's records being sought in a leak case" while he was attorney general.

Following news of the watchdog review, Schiff applauded the move, while adding that the probe "will not obviate the need for other forms of oversight and accountability — including public oversight by Congress."

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Brendan Morrow

Brendan is a staff writer at The Week. A graduate of Hofstra University with a degree in journalism, he also writes about horror films for Bloody Disgusting and has previously contributed to The Cheat Sheet, Heavy, WhatCulture, and more. He lives in New York City surrounded by Star Wars posters.