Washington

Justice Department to ‘strengthen’ rules for seizing lawmakers’ records


Attorney General Merrick B. Garland said Monday the Justice Department will strengthen its rules for obtaining records from lawmakers as the agency is under fire for confiscating data from Democrats and journalists when President Trump was in office.

“Consistent with our commitment to the rule of law, we must ensure that full weight is accorded to separation-of-powers concerns moving forward,” Mr. Garland said in a statement.

The DOJ is facing scrutiny over recent revelations that the agency seized data on House Democrats and members of the media as part of an investigation into leaks plaguing the Trump administration.

Apple revealed Friday that the DOJ issued subpoenas in February 2018 for records on House Intelligence Committee members Reps. Eric Swalwell and Adam B. Schiff, both California Democrats, as well as dozens of congressional lawmakers, staffers and their families. Various news outlets also have recently confirmed that the DOJ sought records on their reporters.

Mr. Garland’s announcement Monday came a few hours after the Associated Press reported that John Demers is resigning from his position as the DOJ’s national security leader.

Mr. Demers was sworn in shortly after the DOJ subpoenaed Apple for the congressional members’ data and questions arose over whether he was aware of the department’s actions.

The top official is set to leave by the end of this week and he will be temporarily replaced by Mark Lesko, acting U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of New York, until the Senate approves President Biden’s appointee Mark Olsen.

DOJ Inspector General Michael E. Horowitz announced last week that he will open an investigation into the Apple subpoenas and “whether any such uses, or the investigations, were based upon improper considerations.”

At the time of the subpoenas, then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions was trying to uncover the source of leaks about contacts between Mr. Trump’s campaign associates and Russia.

Former Attorney General William P. Barr revived the investigation when he replaced Mr. Sessions in 2019. He told The Wall Street Journal on Friday that he did not recall the subpoenas.

Mr. Garland said Monday that “political or other improper considerations must play no role in any investigative or prosecutorial decisions.”

“These principles that have long been held as sacrosanct by the DOJ career workforce will be vigorously guarded on my watch, and any failure to live up to them will be met with strict accountability,” Mr. Garland said.

The attorney general is also planning to discuss the leak investigation with leaders from news outlets including The New York Times, The Washington Post and CNN — all three of which were subpoenaed for reporter records.

Rep. Schiff, who is now the chair of the House Intelligence Committee, said Monday that he has “every confidence they will also do the kind of top-to-bottom review of the degree to which the department was politicized during the previous administration and take corrective steps.”

⦁ Jeff Mordock contributed to this report which is based in part on wire services.

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