Democratic Representative Adam Schiff said Donald Trump’s Justice Department broke rules brought in after Watergate by secretly trawling his communications to try and identify the source of embarrassing leaks.
Schiff and his fellow representative Eric Swalwell had data from their Apple devices seized and analysed as part of a probe revealed Thursday.
And Schiff – who also sits on the House Intelligence Committee – shared his outrage with Chris Cuomo on CNN Thursday.
He told Cuomo he had never heard of a White House administration opening such a probe, adding: ‘And you know we brought about these new norms after Watergate to prevent exactly this kind of abuse. But they didn’t survive this presidency and — but it is shocking.’
Schiff and Swalwell – both members of the House Intelligence Committee – had metadata taken from their devices by Justice Department prosecutors as officials tried to work out who was leaking information about meetings between Trump associates and Russian leaders.
Former Attorney General Jeff Sessions began the probe in 2017, with more records seized in 2018. A dozen people with links to the House Intelligence Committee – which is privy to classified intelligence – had their metadata examined.
Their family members – including one minor child – were also targeted, amid concerns the suspected leakers may have been using children’s devices to try and cover their tracks.
Justice Department prosecutors also sought a gag order to keep the probe secret, with none of those whose data was targeted aware of what was going on.
Justice Department prosecutors seized metadata records from Apple for accounts belonging to Rep. Adam Schiff, pictured, and other members of the House Intelligence Committee
Democratic Rep. Eric Swalwell, pictured, revealed he also had data from their Apple devices secretly seized by the Trump administration
They finally found last month, with Schiff and Swalwell both sharing their outrage in separate CNN interviews on Thursday night.
Schiff told Chris Cuomo he was ‘shocked but not surprised’ by the ‘terrible abuse of the rule of law,’ and called for an inquiry into the DoJ probe.
He added: ‘I love my experience there. And to see how it was turned into this bludgeon to go after the president’s enemies and a shield to protect those who lied for him, people like Roger stone and Mike Flynn and others, it’s disgraceful, but it’s also, such a body blow to our democracy.’
Schiff also told the Times: ‘It is increasingly apparent that those demands did not fall on deaf ears.’
‘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.’
Speaking on Don Lemon’s show later on Thursday, Swalwell said: ‘It’s wrong. This is what they do – they smear.’
The subpoenas which were used to obtain the information were first revealed to the The New York Times.
Trump and his administration were infuriated after detailed conversations between his aides and the Russian ambassador to the US were leaked shortly after he took office in January 2017.
The revelations show the extent of Trump’s obsession over leaks and the extraordinary lengths his administration would go through to investigate them
They are said to have identified then-FBI director James Comey and his deputy Andrew McCabe as possible sources for leaks, as well as the House Intelligence Committee.
Embarrassing leaks included details of Trump’s first national security Michael flynn’s conversations with Russian ambassador to the US Sergey Kislyak. Flynn was later fired and charged, then later convicted, for lying to the FBI about his contact with Russia. He was later pardoned by Trump.
The seized data ultimately did not tie members of the House Intelligence Committee – including Schiff – to leaks to the press regarding contacts between associates of Donald Trump and Russia, the outlet reported. Exactly how much was seized remains unknown.
Schiff and other members of the committee had access to secret material, including intelligence on the Trump administration’s ties to Russians.
The Justice Department also secured a gag order against Apple preventing them from telling the lawmakers they were being investigated, sources told the outlet. That gag order finally expired this year and Apple told the committee members that they were investigated last month.