US Department of Justice (DOJ) Inspector General Michael Horowitz announced Friday that the department’s internal watchdog will be investigating illegal data seizures by the Trump administration.
The Trump administration allegedly secretly seized phone data from House Democrats in 2018 when the administration was aggressively cracking down on leaks regarding Russian meddling in the 2016 elections. The investigation was announced shortly after Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco requested an internal inquiry on the issue.
The allegations came to light when Apple notified House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff and California Representative Eric Swalwell that their metadata had been subpoenaed and submitted to the DOJ in 2018. This was when House Democrats were investigating former president Donald Trump’s ties to Russia. The seizure information report from Apple showed that the Trump’s DOJ requested 73 phone numbers and 36 email addresses. Apple was also served a non-disclosure forbidding the company from notifying anyone about the investigation. Several other individuals’ information was seized as well, including aides, former aides and family members of the representatives, including an unidentified minor.
Apple released a statement after notifying the relevant congressman: “We regularly challenge warrants, subpoenas and nondisclosure orders and have made it our policy to inform affected customers of governmental requests about them just as soon as possible.”
Schiff stated that the Trump administration has constantly weaponised the DOJ’s position and used it to undermine political rivals. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin have also stated that former attorneys general William Barr and Jeff Sessions could be facing subpoenas if they declined to testify about the secret data seizures.
There are also reports that the DOJ has seized phone records from journalists and reporters from the New York Times, the Washington Post and CNN. Following this revelation, the DOJ has stated that they will cease the practice of obtaining such records without consent.