It’s good to know that someone at the Department of Justice is worried about more than whether or not their actions offend Donald Trump. And it’s even better to know that someone can move fast.
On Friday afternoon, DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz announced that the department would open an investigation into the use of subpoenas “and other legal authorities” to obtain phone records of members of Congress. That announcement came just one hour after Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco, who was named to her current position in April after serving as an advisor within the Department of Homeland Security under President Obama, called on the inspector general’s office to investigate. It was also just one hour after Sen. Chuck Schumer and Sen. Dick Durbin issued a joint statement calling on former Attorneys General William Barr and Jefferson Sessions to face subpoenas, and to subject themselves to congressional testimony or be “compelled to testify under oath.”
All of this follows news on Thursday evening, that the Department of Justice tried to obtain phone records from the phones of Democratic Rep. Eric Swalwell and Rep. Adam Schiff, as well as members of their family. The investigation—supposedly about leaks of classified data from the House Intelligence Committee—came up dry. But that didn’t stop the DOJ from seeking phone records belonging to the representatives’ underage children or their spouses, and it didn’t stop Donald Trump from declaring Schiff guilty despite having no evidence.
Attorney General Merrick Garland is scheduled to meet with leaders of top news organizations on Friday afternoon to discuss both the department’s role in going after Democratic leaders’ records and the ongoing efforts to look into reporters’ phone records. But former Attorney General Barr isn’t waiting. He’s speaking up already—to claim he had nothing to do with it.
And now Jeff Sessions is also claiming he knows nothing about it. Gee, were these guys ever actually running the DOJ?
On Tuesday, the Justice Department made it clear that it was still in Donald Trump’s corner when it came to a defamation suit filed by writer E. Jean Carroll., who has accused Trump of rape. That suit posits that Trump’s claim that he never met the writer, and that her accusations were just “trying to sell a new book” would seem to have no connection to Trump’s official duties. Neither would his claim that Carroll was “not my type.” Even so, the DOJ is defending Trump with the assertion that “Speaking to the public and the press on matters of public concern is undoubtedly part of an elected official’s job,” a position that would seem to license Trump to slander private citizens at will. It’s an argument that a federal judge has already flatly denied, but the DOJ is continuing to support Trump in an appeal of that decision.
It was just one of a series of decisions by Garland—including refusing to provide memos that show how Bill Barr justified failing to charge Trump with obstruction, and keeping former U.S. attorney John Durham on board as a special prosecutor in an unending investigation that seems to have no core principles—that have many fuming over his apparent refusal to make necessary course corrections after Jefferson Sessions and Bill Barr turned the DOJ into a private investigation and persecution service for Trump.
That wasn’t helped on Friday when The Washington Post reported that the DOJ will continue to fight subpoenas attempting to obtain the records of Trump’s Washington hotel. Trump leases the building from the federal government but despite hearings, subpoenas, and a lawsuit, House committees have been unable to obtain the records they seek. Now the Justice Department is appealing a decision ruling that the records must be produced, compounding the appearance that even from Mar-a-Lago, Trump still has the agency serving as his private law firm.
However, expectations are that Garland will announce revisions to the DOJ policy when it comes to seeking the records of reporters involved in leaks. The scope of such investigations was significantly reduced in 2013—a fact that Sessions and Barr routinely ignored while indulging Trump’s ever-active paranoia about leaks. Politico also notes that Garland is expected to speak on Friday afternoon to reaffirm the DOJ’s position in favor of voting rights, a statement that may precede legal action against states that have passed, or are trying to pass, restrictive voting bills.
Meanwhile, Barr has announced that “he didn’t recall” being briefed on the attempts to get into the phone records of Democratic lawmakers. It’s a statement that seems hugely unlikely, as the investigation was moribund in 2017 and revived when Barr took office. However, it’s a statement that is definitely intended to do some some heavy-duty CYA for Barr, who already testified to the Senate that he didn’t know about any investigations being carried out at Trump’s orders.
Despite all the efforts, no evidence was ever found that Schiff or Swalwell ever leaked any information. It’s too bad that as long as the DOJ was deciding to surveil a co-equal branch of government, they didn’t think to look at any Republican members. Because there’s certainly at least one good candidate who has spilled information all over the place.
Mar 22, 2017 — [Devin] Nunes launches the first of several press conferences in which he declares that he has secret information showing that the Obama administration spied on Trump. Then Nunes runs back to Paul Ryan, then he holds a second press conference during which it becomes clear that Nunes is both revealing classified information and sharing that information with the people supposedly under investigation by his committee.
An earlier report
from inspector general Horowitz looked into the FISA applications and origins of the Russia investigation—the same thing that Durham has been examining for over two years now. That report found that the decision to open the investigation into the Trump campaign, and to individuals connected that campaign, was properly made, though there were a number of technical flaws in the applications for FISA warrants.