|Heather Cox Richardson||Jun 11|
You might have noticed that I wrote through the weekend rather than posting a photo on Saturday, thinking that I was sort of banking time and I would take a break during the week. Well, today was my day. Lots of ongoing stories but nothing big. Went to dinner with my brother and sister-in-law (going to be their 40th this year!) and thought to call it an early night.
You know where this is going, right?
Came home and opened Twitter.
Katie Benner, Nicholas Fandos, Michael S. Schmidt, and Adam Goldman of the New York Times broke a major story tonight:
Under former president Trump, the Department of Justice secretly investigated key Democratic lawmakers.
In February 2018, the House Intelligence Committee was investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election, and the president became obsessed with figuring out who was apparently leaking information to the press about contacts between his people and Russia.
Under then–Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the Department of Justice subpoenaed from Apple the records of the communications of California Democrats Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the committee, and—we learned at about 11:00 tonight—Eric Swalwell, both of whom were key critics of Trump. The department also investigated members of their families, including one child. The government seized the records of at least a dozen people.
“[G]ood God,” journalist Jennifer Rubin tweeted. “They were running a police state.” For the Department of Justice to subpoena records from congressional lawmakers is extraordinary. For it to investigate their families, as well, is mind boggling.
Department officials did not find anything, and the investigations slowed down.
Remember back in May 2019, when the Senate was interviewing William Barr, who replaced Sessions as attorney general, after his delayed release of the Mueller Report, and then-Senator Kamala Harris asked him if then-president Trump or anyone else in the White House had ever asked him to open an investigation into anyone? Barr danced around the question and then refused to answer it.
It turns out that when Barr became attorney general in February 2019, he revived the languishing investigations, moving personnel around to ramp up the inquiry. Even after the Trump administration itself declassified some of the information that had been leaked, undercutting the argument for continuing an investigation, Barr insisted on keeping it going.
The Justice Department did not find that the Democrats they were investigating were connected with the leaks.
The DOJ also subpoenaed the records of journalists from the Washington Post, the New York Times, and CNN to try to find leakers, a serious threat to freedom of the press.
Meanwhile, of course, as journalist Chris Hayes pointed out on Twitter, at the same time the White House and its operatives at the Department of Justice were secretly subpoenaing the records of members of Congress, they were refusing to answer congressional subpoenas of White House personnel.
In a statement tonight, Schiff said: “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.” On CNN, he said: “While I can’t go into who received these subpoenas … I can say that this was extraordinarily broad – people having nothing to do with the intelligence matters that are at least being reported on. It just shows what a broad fishing expedition it was.” Schiff has called for the department’s inspector general to “investigate this and other cases that suggest the weaponization of law enforcement by a corrupt president.”
Swalwell’s statement was less restrained: “Like many of the world’s most despicable dictators, former President Trump showed an utter disdain for our democracy and the rule of law.”
While there are many layers to this story, it increases the political tension in the country. When Republican leaders tied themselves to Trump after he lost the 2020 election, they tied themselves to whatever came out about his actions. They have tried to explain away the January 6 insurrection and recently refused to investigate what happened on and around that day. Will they now say that it is okay for a president to use the Department of Justice secretly to investigate members of Congress who belong to the opposing party?