WASHINGTON — The Department of Justice’s internal watchdog is launching an investigation into reports former President Donald Trump used the Justice Department to target Democratic lawmakers, the agency announced on Friday.
The announcement comes as more questions swirl around the DOJ under Trump in 2017 when the former president allegedly asked Apple for metadata for at least two Democratic House members, their staff, and family members. The investigation became public on Thursday in The New York Times.
Also on Friday, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin threatened to subpoena former attorneys general William Barr and Jeff Sessions to testify before Congress.
Apple spokesman Fred Sainz released a statement on Friday, saying the company regularly challenges warrants, subpoenas, and nondisclosure orders and usually notifies affected customers.
“[It] provided no information on the nature of the investigation and it would have been virtually impossible for Apple to understand the intent of the desired information without digging through users’ accounts,” Sainz said. “Consistent with the request, Apple limited the information it provided to account subscriber information and did not provide any content such as emails or pictures.”
Microsoft also issued a separate statement and said they received a subpoena in 2017 “related to a personal email account” but was not able to contact the user of the account “because of a gag order.”
“As we’ve said before, we believe customers have a constitutional right to know when the government requests their email or documents, and we have a right to tell them,” a company spokesperson said in a statement. “As soon as the gag order expired, we notified the customer who told us they were a congressional staffer. We then provided a briefing to the representative’s staff following that notice. We will continue to aggressively seek reform that imposes reasonable limits on government secrecy in cases like this.”
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Adam Schiff called the news “an important first step” in a statement on Friday but made it clear more needs to be done.
“As crucial as it will be, the IG’s investigation will not obviate the need for other forms of oversight and accountability — including public oversight by Congress — and the Department must cooperate in that effort as well,” he said. “In the meantime, the Attorney General needs to do a full damage assessment of the conduct of the department over the last four years and outline all of the accountability and mitigation necessary to protect the public going forward.”