The Justice Department‘s watchdog announced Friday it will open an investigation into the decision by Trump administration prosecutors to subpoena tech giant Apple for data belonging to Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee while on the hunt for media leaks.
Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz announced the probe in a statement, which will also look into government efforts to obtain the private communications of journalists.
“The review will examine the department’s compliance with applicable DOJ policies and procedures and whether any such uses, or the investigations, were based upon improper considerations,” Mr. Horowitz said in a statement. “If circumstances warrant, the OIG will consider other issues that may arise during the review.”
House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler, New York Democrat, praised Mr. Horowitz for the probe, but called on the Justice Department to do more.
“I am grateful that Inspector General Horowitz has committed to investigating both cases. His work here will be invaluable,” Mr. Nadler said in a statement. “An investigation by his office is, however, no substitute for swift action by the Department of Justice.”
Mr. Nadler called on Attorney General Merrick Garland to provide a full accounting of the cases and hold any personnel still at the Justice Department accountable for the subpoenas.
“If the Department does not make substantial progress towards these two goals, then we on the Judiciary Committee will have no choice but to step in and do the work ourselves,” he said.
Mr. Horowitz’s announcement came just hours after two top Democratic senators demanded the inspector general open a probe and threatened their own investigation.
Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer of New York and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin of Illinois called on former Attorneys General Jeff Sessions and William P. Barr to explain their actions, saying they would be forced to come if they refuse.
“Former Attorneys General Barr and Sessions and other officials who were involved must testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee under oath,” the two lawmakers said in a joint statement. “If they refuse, they are subject to being subpoenaed and compelled to testify under oath.”
It is unlikely that subpoenas will be issued, however. With the Judiciary Committee evenly split among both parties, Democrats will need the support of at least one Republican to carry out the threat.
Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee have shown an unwillingness to reach across the aisle on Justice Department matters, voting unanimously against President Biden’s most controversial picks for the department.
The Democrats pledged to conduct their own investigations.
“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,” the statement said.
Mr. Schumer and Mr. Durbin join an increasing number of Democrats vowing to probe the subpoenas. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, and Mr. Nadler have also promised to launch investigations.
News outlets reported late Thursday that prosecutors with the Trump Justice Department subpoenaed Apple for the data from the accounts of Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee. Committee Chairman Rep. Adam Schiff, California Democrat, was among the lawmakers who had his data seized.
Rep. Eric Swalwell, California Democrat, told CNN that he had been notified by Apple that his data had been collected along with data belonging to his family members, including a minor.
The FBI sent the subpoena to Apple in February 2018, seeking contact information on more than 100 accounts as part of an investigation into the disclosure of classified information, according to The New York Times, which first reported the story. Investigators were said to be looking to identify the leaker behind stories about the contact between Russia and Trump associates in the early days of the Trump administration.
Although the initial investigation under Mr. Sessions turned up no evidence of a leak, Mr. Barr renewed the probe when he took over in 2019.