When then attorney general William Barr sat down before the Senate to discuss his spin on the Mueller Report, then Sen. Kamala Harris had a decidedly pointed question for him: “Has the president or anyone at the White House ever asked or suggested you open an investigation into anyone?” To this Barr had a decidedly unconvincing answer. “I don’t know.”
Honestly, there was never any doubt that Trump had used the DOJ in an attempt to dig up information on a whole series of perceived enemies, including former cabinet officials who were connected with the Russia investigation. But on Thursday evening, The New York Times reported that along with those others, the DOJ had directly investigated Democratic members of Congress.
These investigations included going after the phone records of Rep. Adam Schiff and Rep. Eric Swalwell, both of whom were members of the intelligence committee. In addition to seeking the records of calls made and received, the DOJ attempted to get Apple to provide data from the congressmen’s phones and that of their family members. In the process, the DOJ subpoenaed Apple for data from the phone of at least one minor child.
The investigations were launched by Trump’s first attorney general, Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III, after Trump accused Schiff and other members of the House Intelligence Committee of leaking classified information. Investigators found no connection between either Schiff or Swalwell and the information that had appeared in the press. That didn’t stop William Barr from reviving the investigation when he became attorney general. Barr not only resumed this effort to use the DOJ into punishing Trump’s political opponents, he brought in a fresh team of “trusted” prosecutors to do the job.
This is the first time that the DOJ has ever seized the phone records of lawmakers during a leak investigation, much less that of their families. But it’s just one more instance of how Trump weaponized the “Justice” Department to be his personal hit squad—and another signal to Attorney General Merrick Garland that it is far past time to end the list of Gestapo tactics that began under Trump.
In other cases where Apple has been subpoenaed to release data, the company has been vocal about its opposition. There was no such response in this case for one simple reason—the DOJ put Apple under a gag order, covering up its actions even as it tried to rifle through the private information of Schiff and Swalwell’s family members. At the same time, the DOJ went after reporters, seizing phone records and emails at CNN, digging into the lives of everyone up to the network president, and placing a gag order on the company to keep it all under cover.
In testimony before the Senate, current Attorney General Merrick Garland refused to criticize efforts to investigate reporters, saying “I’m not casting blame,” he said, before saying that the investigations were conducted “under a set of policies that have existed for decades.” Except no one can name a single instance in which those policies have included going after the records of members of Congress or their families. And Garland ignored the fact that the rules for investigating reporters were greatly tightened up in 2013.
The fact that none of these investigations produced any evidence that members of the House Intelligence Committee had leaked any information did not stop Trump from directly and publicly accusing Rep. Schiff. As New York Magazine reported in February 2018, Trump accused “Little Adam Schiff” of leaking classified information and publicly called for his investigation. Trump repeated this accusation on numerous occasions, even though Schiff denied leaking any information and the investigation at the DOJ found no evidence that he had done anything wrong.
While the investigation may not have turned up any evidence against Schiff or Swalwell, it absolutely does serve to indict someone—Barr, who directly lied to the Senate when he testified that he didn’t know of any investigations being conducted at Trump’s direction.
This information serves to highlight not just the extent to which Donald Trump pushed the Department of Justice to act as his private investigation and prosecution team, but the ways in which both Sessions and Barr eagerly agreed to throw their agency behind Trump’s persecutions. Sadly enough, it also illustrates how the Justice Department was, and is, acting far outside its own rules.
Once again, this absolutely demonstrates how utterly ludicrous, and destructive to the purposes of justice—big “J” or little “j”—it is that Garland is continuing to defend these efforts. Garland seems to have taken his writ as attorney general to be apolitical, but that’s not the effect of what he’s doing. Corruption can’t be ignored, it has to be fought. Merrick Garland is not fighting; He’s sitting back and allowing the corrupt practices put in place under Trump to continue. Worse still, he is endorsing these practices.
The DOJ should end its ridiculous attempt to defend Donald Trump against charges of defaming a rape victim. The acting head of the DOJ’s Civil Division justified the government’s intrusion into this case by saying that ”Speaking to the public and the press on matters of public concern is undoubtedly part of an elected official’s job,” which should be jaw-dropping in its audacity and ugliness. This is nothing less than another way of saying that occupying the White House is a license to commit slander against private citizens. It’s not just a miserable reading of the law, it’s disgusting. And Garland must end it now.
The DOJ should immediately end the investigation still being conducted by former U.S. Attorney and now Special Counsel John "Bull" Durham—an investigation that has now gone on over twice as long as the Mueller investigation, and which has generated only a single minor indictment of a low level official. That investigation has been a genuine “witch hunt” from the outset, and has included efforts to rope allied intelligence agencies into working against the CIA, and is now reportedly involved in examining the records of the Clinton Foundation. There is no possible justification for continuing this “investigation.” And Garland must end it now.
The DOJ must—must—release the full and unredacted Mueller Report, along with the memos showing how Barr and his team worked to subvert the findings of the report and generate a “summary” that was deeply slanted to help Trump. The decision not to charge Trump with obstruction clearly did not grow from the overwhelming evidence for such a charge found in Mueller’s report. That the DOJ is still protecting these documents is nothing less than abetting a cover-up. And Garland must end it now.
Garland is not acting to end continuing investigations into reports that were launched under Trump. He’s not moving to conduct a DOJ investigation of the events leading up to the attack on peaceful protesters in Lafayette Square. He’s not just failing to act to put the Department of Justice back on track, he’s continuing to drive it even further into the weeds.
Merrick Garland has to end this now. Or get out of the way for someone who will.