In the end, the data didn’t tie the committee to the leaks, and there were discussions about dropping the investigation. But a year later, William Barr, after becoming attorney general, revitalized the investigation, moving around department employees to work on the Schiff case.
When Maddow asked Schiff on Thursday whether Congress should also investigate the department’s seizing of the records, Schiff said it should, adding that Attorney General Merrick Garland would be questioned on the matter. He said he himself shouldn’t have a role in the investigation, given that his records were subpoenaed, but said other committees in Congress could exercise oversight.
As for Garland’s role, Schiff said that the current attorney general had a responsibility to “clean house,” and that it would be at least a decade before the department recovered from politicization.
“I think that the attorney general has an obligation to clean house, to essentially understand exactly what the department was doing over the last four years — make sure there’s accountability for those that were engaged in political and partisan investigations within the department,” Schiff said.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi backed Schiff’s call for an investigation, calling the Times report “harrowing.”
“These actions appear to be yet another egregious assault on our democracy waged by the former president,” Pelosi said in a statement. “I support Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff’s call for an investigation into this situation and other acts of the weaponization of law enforcement by the former president. Transparency is essential.”
The seizing of metadata, if corroborated, would show how eager Trump administration officials were to identify and prosecute the sources. The Justice Department, just as it did in investigating news organizations, was reported to have issued a gag order against Apple. Lawmakers didn’t learn they were being investigated until last month, when the gag order expired and Apple notified them of the seizure, according to the Times report.
Schiff said that, while unprecedented, the department’s move was a “patent abuse” and “another example of the president politicizing” the department.
“We’re obviously deeply suspicious of what the Justice Department was doing,” he said. “More than that, this looks like a patent abuse of the department. Yet another example of the president politicizing, using the Department of Justice as a cudgel to go after his enemies. He would repeatedly attack our committee, attack me personally, call for investigations of our committee while we were doing an investigation of him.”
He added: “And apparently those pleas were met with a receptive audience at the very top level of the Justice Department.”
Schiff also said Thursday that it was still unclear how many members were targeted by the subpoenas, and whether only Democrats’ records were seized. He said they would learn more in coming days as members of the committee rechecked old emails for the notice from Apple — an email that members and staff thought was spam, Schiff said.