Former President Donald Trump always disdained staffers who tattled to the press about his administration’s antics. His feelings could be summarized by one tweet in 2018: “Leakers are traitors and cowards, and we will find out who they are!”
Now it has emerged that Trump’s Department of Justice took unprecedented steps to find out who in Washington was leaking information to the press. The New York Times reported on Thursday that the administration seized the records of several people connected to the House Intelligence Committee in 2017, including Eric Swalwell and its top Democrat Adam Schiff. Prosecutors working under then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions were attempting to identify the sources who were informing reporters about the Trump camp’s connections to Russia. They did so by subpoenaing Apple for data from the accounts of at least two House Intelligence Democrats, their aides, and their families — including a minor. The provider was only required to hand over metadata and account information.
It was unsuccessful, as the Times details: “Ultimately, the data and other evidence did not tie the committee to the leaks, and investigators debated whether they had hit a dead end.” But that didn’t stop Trump’s second attorney general, William Barr, from trying again, transferring a prosecutor from New Jersey who worked in gang and health-care fraud prosecutions to the National Security Division to conduct the probe. The leak team briefed the deputy AG’s office every other week on their developments.
Similar to the recent revelation that the Trump DOJ seized phone records of reporters as part of the leak investigation, Schiff did not know about the subpoena until a gag order on Apple expired this May. As the paper notes, subpoenaing the data of lawmakers is “a nearly unheard-of move outside of corruption investigations.” It’s also a marker of just how far the politicization of the purportedly independent Department of Justice went under Trump.
On Thursday night, Schiff responded, saying that “Trump repeatedly and flagrantly demanded that the Department of Justice carry out his political will, and tried to use the department as a cudgel against his political opponents and members of the media. It is increasingly apparent that those demands did not fall on deaf ears.” He also encouraged the DOJ inspector general to open an inquiry into “this and other cases that suggest the weaponization of law enforcement by a corrupt president.”
On Friday, CNN reported that Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco had asked the Justice Department’s inspector general to investigate DOJ’s handling of the matter.
As for the leakers who were “traitors and cowards,” it appears Trump never found out who they were.