The House Judiciary Committee demanded on Thursday that the Justice Department provide documents and explanations for how and why it seized the records of House lawmakers, journalists, and former White House Counsel Don McGahn.
According to a letter from Judiciary Committee Chair Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY) to Attorney General Merrick Garland, the panel wants documents and communications from across the investigations, including information about whether the White House was involved in the investigations.
The New York Times reported last week that the Trump DOJ had sought records from Apple for two Democratic members of the House Intelligence Committee, Reps. Adam Schiff (D-CA) and Eric Swalwell (D-CA), as part of a leak investigation that also collected information on their staffers and family members.
Nadler said in the letter that his committee is focusing on unearthing evidence that Trump pushed the DOJ to conduct the investigations. Prosecutors also targeted multiple prominent journalists, and McGahn — all people who Trump regularly complained about on Twitter.
“We must determine if the Department sought these sensitive records for improper political purposes,” the letter reads. “Finally, because the news media, the Members of Congress identified in recent reports, and the former White House Counsel were so frequently targets of President Trump’s public ire, we must identify the full set of individuals who may have also been the targets of politically-motivated investigations.”
Nadler wants communications in which the Trump White House may have pressured the DOJ to conduct leak investigations or take steps to gather information.
Reporting that Trump-era federal prosecutors got subpoenas for lawmakers surprised many legal observers, in part because of how rare it is for the DOJ to investigate members of Congress in leak investigations.
“It really triggers this policy within the DOJ to give a greater level of scrutiny because of the respect the executive branch should have for the legislative branch,” Barb McQuade, a former U.S. Attorney, told TPM.
But it raised questions about whether the motivation for the investigations was problematic.
“Whenever you surveil lawmakers, that is of course incredibly controversial, and you have to be careful that you’re doing it for the right reasons,” Alan Rozenshtein, a former attorney advisor in the DOJ’s Office of Law and Policy in the National Security Division, told TPM this week.
“The track record of the Trump DOJ does not inspire confidence that they have such prudence, that they did these investigations for the right reasons,” he added. “But at the same time, I don’t think the right takeaway is that this was obviously an abuse of power and they never should have [issued the subpoenas], that no one should ever be investigating lawmakers, because sometimes lawmakers commit crimes.”
Nadler’s committee opened an investigation into the revelations last week. He gave Garland a July 1 deadline.