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DOJ inspector general launches probe into secret seizure of top Democrats’ phone records

Following a bombshell report from The New York Times, the Justice Department's inspector general announced Friday he will open an investigation into why the Trump administration secretly subpoenaed the phone data of at least two of President Trump's critics in Congress, both top Democrats. Adam Goldman, who was among the team of reporters that broke the story this week, joins John Yang to discuss.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    The Justice Department's inspector general announced today that he is investigating the Trump administration's secret seizure of communications data of at least two congressional critics.

    John Yang explains.

  • John Yang:

    Judy, the subpoenas were for data from the accounts of at least two House Intelligence Committee Democrats, their staff, and their families.

    Both lawmakers are sharp critics of Trump, Adam Schiff, who was the panel's top Democrat and now its chairman, and Eric Swalwell.

    Adam Goldman covers the FBI for The New York Times, and was on the team of reporters that broke the story last night, and among "The Times" reporters whose records were seized by the Justice Department.

    Adam, thanks for joining us.

  • Adam Goldman:

    Thank you.

  • John Yang:

    How unusual is this, to go after information about members about congressmen, members of Congress and their staffs, in a leak investigation?

  • Adam Goldman:

    It is extraordinarily rare. These raise the most difficult issues for the Justice Department. They have First Amendment implications, as well as separation of power implications.

    And yet they sought to use a grand jury subpoena to try to get information to solve what is known as a leak of classified information.

  • John Yang:

    And what kind of information did they get? And is that — from your experience covering these things, how helpful is that information in an investigation?

  • Adam Goldman:

    Well, let me say something about these leak investigations. They are extraordinarily hard to prove, right?

    You're, in fact, looking for actual evidence of the transfer of classified information. And that is rare, exceedingly rare.

  • John Yang:

    Is there any indication or is there any reason to believe that this goes beyond these two, Congressmen Schiff and Swalwell, that there are subpoenas for information about others?

  • Adam Goldman:

    It's not clear to me, right?

    We have thoughts about what they were investigating. And, of course, it was highly classified, so it meant it would have been compartmentalized, and only certain — a certain number of people would have known about it, I believe.

    So, they must have thought those who had access to the information were — could possibly be behind the leak. But that means there would have been other members of Congress who would have known about this, right, other people who were read in, whether it's the Senate Intelligence Committee or other members in HPSCI.

    So, frankly, just the targeting of Schiff and Swalwell and their staffers is quite perplexing to us.

  • John Yang:

    HPSCI being the House Intelligence Committee.

  • Adam Goldman:

    Right.

  • John Yang:

    So, these subpoenas were issued during the Trump administration, but were — are there prosecutors, career prosecutors, who were in charge of this investigation who are still there now under the Biden administration?

  • Adam Goldman:

    Yes, there are.

    In fact, there are there are many. And they're sprinkled all up and down the Justice Department, in particular the National Security Division and the U.S. attorney's office in Washington, D.C. I can't tell you how many because we're not exactly clear when this case was opened specifically, and how it came in. Was it a referral from the intelligence community? This would have happened under Jeff Sessions, right, the investigation into members of Congress or their staffers.

    But he was recused. So, ultimately, it would have fallen on the shoulders of Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general, who would have approved any subpoenas, right? And this case languishes. They can't make any headway. They basically run it to ground.

    And then Attorney General Barr steps in, in 2020 and takes a trusted proxy from New Jersey and asks him to review a handful of cases, including this one involving Congressman Schiff. And they — like their predecessors who had reviewed it, they can't make a case. There's no one — there's no one to charge.

  • John Yang:

    Adam Goldman of The New York Times, thank you very much.

  • Adam Goldman:

    Thank you.

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