Top Democrats in Congress on Friday demanded a full investigation into the Department of Justice’s extraordinary decision to secretly seize data from the accounts of at least two lawmakers from the House and their assistants as the Trump administration try to find the source of leaks of classified information.
Democrats and advocates for freedom of speech dismissed the attacks and aggressive investigative tactics, first reported by The New York Times on Thursday, as a gross abuse of power to target another branch of government, saying the pursuit of information over some of former president Donald J. Trump the most visible political opponents have toppled the dangerous politicization.
They demanded in various ways that the Inspector General of the Department of Justice and Congress themselves investigate – and that the staff of the department involved in the investigation should be fired.
“I hope every prosecutor involved is thrown out of the department,” California Rep. Eric Swalwell, one of at least two Democrats on the intelligence committee whose records were seized, said in an interview. “It transcends the line of what we do in this country.”
“We need to determine what and how it happened to determine the extent to which DOJ abused its powers under Trump for political purposes,” he continued. “I think it was absolutely a frontal attack on the independence of an equal branch of government.”
The Times reported that the Department of Justice, in view of the source of leaks about Trump associates and Russia, used the summonses of major juries to force Apple and another service provider to transfer data related to ten at least a dozen people who started with the committee. in 2017 and 2018. The department then received a gag order to keep it secret.
In addition to mr. Swalwell, investigators gained access to the records of California Representative Adam B. Schiff, the top Democrat on the committee and now its chairman, committee staff and family members, including one who was a minor.
Although leak investigations are routine, current and former officials at the Department of Justice and in Congress have said that seizure of data on legislators is almost unheard of outside of corruption investigations.
In the Senate, Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat and a member of the intelligence committee who was a leading critic of government oversight, said he intends to enact legislation that seeks to curb the use of gag orders like those on Apple and news organizations, which were also investigated under scrutiny.
“Revelation about the Trump Justice Department’s focus on journalists and political rivals proves once again how supervisory powers can be abused and the need to set strict limits on gag orders that the targets of this espionage have not taught about for years,” he said. . Wyden said in a statement.
While top Democrats, including Mr. Schiff and Speaker Nancy Pelosi, focusing on the need for an inspector general inquiry, told Hawaii Democrat Sen. Brian Schatz that Congress should conduct its own inquiry.
“I respectfully ask the House not to investigate the executive, but to do it itself,” he said. posted on Twitter, note that the Senate could have tried this, but had fewer tools available to force answers.