A close up on the words "Department of Justice" on the side of a building.

The Trump Justice Department sought metadata from Apple to investigate Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee.

Patrick Semansky / AP

The Trump Justice Department subpoenaed Apple in 2018 in order to obtain the metadata of at least two Democratic members of the House Intelligence Committee, as well as their current and former staff, and even family, including a minor, according to a lawmaker and a committee official.


Now Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Dick Durbin, D-Ill., are calling for an immediate investigation by the Justice Department Inspector General and by Congress, describing the reported actions by the Trump administration a "gross abuse of power."

The Trump-era subpoena, which was first reported by The New York Times, was part of an aggressive push by the Justice Department to find the source of leaks of classified information in the early years of the Trump administration. There is no indication that the subpoenaed material tied the committee to the media leaks.

The two lawmakers who had their data seized are Rep. Adam Schiff, the committee's top Democrat, and Rep. Eric Swalwell. Both men were outspoken critics of former President Trump, and took frequent aim at him in TV and radio appearances.

The department also secured a gag order in the case, preventing Apple from informing the committee about the subpoena. The company was only able to tell the panel after the gag order was lifted in May 2021, the committee official said on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.

The committee contacted the Biden Justice Department, which informed them that the investigation had been closed, the official said.

The Justice Department declined comment.

It is highly unusual for the Justice Department to subpoena members of Congress. If it does happen, it's usually in connection to a corruption investigation. But the subpoena fits into the Trump Justice Department's aggressive approach toward investigating leaks to the media.

That approach became clear recently when it emerged that the department had secretly sought to obtain phone and email records of reporters from the Times, The Washington Post and CNN in 2020.


Schiff, the California Democrat who now chairs the House Intelligence Committee, confirmed he was informed last month by the Justice Department that an investigation into his committee had been closed.

Congressman Eric Swalwell, a California Democrat who sits on the panel, said in statement that he, too, had been notified by Apple that his data was seized.

Schiff accused Trump of repeatedly placing demands on the Justice Department to go after his political opponents and the media.

"It is increasingly apparent that those demands did not fall on deaf ears," Schiff said in a statement. "The politicization of the Department and the attacks on the rule of law are among the most dangerous assaults on our democracy carried out by the former President."

Schiff and Swalwell both called on the Justice Department's Inspector General to investigate.

The House Intelligence Committee conducted an investigation into possible ties between the Trump campaign and Russia during the 2016 presidential race.

The committee was later instrumental in the impeachment inquiry into President Trump's dealings with Ukraine. Trump was ultimately impeached by the House as a result of that investigation.

Schumer and Durbin sharply criticized the Trump administration in a joint statement Friday following the reports and called on former Attorneys General William Barr and Jeff Sessions to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

"The revelation that the Trump Justice Department secretly subpoenaed metadata of House Intelligence Committee Members and staff and their families, including a minor, is shocking," the two Democratic leaders said. "This is a gross abuse of power and an assault on the separation of powers. This appalling politicization of the Department of Justice by Donald Trump and his sycophants must be investigated immediately by both the DOJ Inspector General and Congress."

They added that if Barr and Sessions were to refuse a request to testify, "they are subject to being subpoenaed and compelled to testify under oath."

"In addition, the Justice Department must provide information and answers to the Judiciary Committee, which will vigorously investigate this abuse of power," Schumer and Durbin said. "This issue should not be partisan; under the Constitution, Congress is a co-equal branch of government and must be protected from an overreaching executive, and we expect that our Republican colleagues will join us in getting to the bottom of this serious matter."

NPR political reporter Alana Wise contributed to this report.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.


Related Stories