Top Democrats in Congress on Friday demanded a full investigation into the Justice Department’s extraordinary decision to secretly seize account data from at least two House lawmakers and their aides as the Trump administration sought to track down the source of leaked classified information.
Democrats and free speech advocates decried the seizures and aggressive investigative tactics, first reported by The New York Times on Thursday, as a blatant abuse of power to target another branch of government and have said seeking information on some of former President Donald J. Trump’s most visible political opponents smelled dangerous politicization.
They have called in various ways for the Justice Department’s inspector general and Congress itself to initiate an investigation – and for the dismissal of departmental staff involved in the investigation.
“I hope every prosecutor involved in this case will be kicked out of the department,” California Representative Eric Swalwell, one of at least two Intelligence Commission Democrats whose files were seized, said in an interview. “It crosses the line of what we do in this country. “
“We need to understand what happened and how it happened to determine to what extent the DOJ abused his powers under Trump for political gain,” he continued. “I think it was absolutely a frontal assault on the independence of an equal branch of government.”
The Times reported that while tracing the source of the leaks regarding Trump associates and Russia, the Justice Department used grand jury summons to compel Apple and another service provider to hand over. data relating to at least a dozen people associated with the committee. in 2017 and 2018. The ministry then obtained a gag order to keep it secret.
In addition to Mr Swalwell, investigators had access to the files of Representative Adam B. Schiff of California, the committee’s top Democrat and now its chairman, committee staff and members of his family, including a minor.
Although leak investigations are routine, current and former Justice and Congress officials said capturing data on lawmakers was almost unheard of outside of corruption investigations.
In the Senate, Ron Wyden, a Democrat of Oregon and a member of the Intelligence Committee who has been a major critic of government oversight, said he plans to introduce legislation trying to crack down on the use of gag orders like the one used on Apple and news organizations, which were also examined as part of the investigation into the leak.
“The revelations about Trump’s Justice Department targeting journalists and political rivals once again prove how surveillance powers can be abused and the need to put strict limits on gag orders that prevent targets from being abused. this espionage to learn for years, ”Mr. Wyden said. in a report.
As top House Democrats, including Mr. Schiff and President Nancy Pelosi, focused on the need for an Inspector General investigation, Hawaii Democrat Senator Brian Schatz said Congress should conduct its own investigation.
“I respectfully ask the House not to ask the executive for inquiries, but rather to do it itself,” he said. wrote on Twitter, noting that the Senate could try, but had fewer tools to force responses.