House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Sunday that the Trump administration’s secret subpoenas for data on accounts belonging to at least two House Democrats go “even beyond Richard Nixon.”
The California Democrat appeared on CNN’s “State of the Union,” where she told host Dana Bash that former Attorneys General Jeff Sessions and William Barr’s claims that they were unaware of such records seizures are “beyond belief.”
“What the administration did — the Justice Department, the leadership of the former president — goes even beyond Richard Nixon. Richard Nixon had an enemies list. This is about undermining the rule of law,” Pelosi said, referring to the former president secretly recording thousands of hours of his phone calls and meetings, which ultimately contributed to his 1974 resignation.
John Dean, who served as Nixon’s counsel before flipping on him over the Watergate scandal, said Friday that the actions of the Justice Department under former President Donald Trump amounted to “Nixon on stilts and steroids.”
The speaker’s comments came after a New York Times report last week that said prosecutors in Trump’s Justice Department subpoenaed Apple and another internet service provider in 2017 and 2018 for data on accounts belonging to at least two Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee — Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), who was the committee’s top Democrat at the time, and Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.). — along with their aides and family members in an effort to figure out who was leaking classified information to reporters about communications between Trump associates and Russian officials.
Prosecutors had imposed a gag order on Apple related to the data seizure, which also involved efforts to seize phone records from at least three major news organizations ― the Times, CNN and The Washington Post ― in an attempt to identify reporters’ confidential sources. The former Justice Department also took out gag orders related to its attempts to seize records from the news outlets, banning staffers from speaking about the government’s efforts and sparking criticism that it was harming press freedoms.
The orders expired this year, allowing the companies last month to notify those who were targeted. The Times report came weeks after the revelations about the Trump administration’s seizures of records from reporters.
On Thursday, Schiff said that Trump had “repeatedly and flagrantly demanded that the Department of Justice carry out his political will,” and tried to use the department as a “cudgel against his political opponents and members of the media.” Swalwell said that “like many of the world’s most despicable dictators … this kind of conduct is unacceptable, but unfortunately on brand.”
Pelosi’s comments came just as CNN and the Times reported that Apple informed former White House counsel Don McGahn and his wife last month that the same Justice Department sought out their records while McGahn was still serving as Trump’s top lawyer. Weeks before his records were subpoenaed, McGahn had reportedly fallen out of favor with Trump for refusing to direct DOJ officials to fire then-special prosecutor Robert Mueller, who was leading the department’s probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.
The inspector general of President Joe Biden’s Justice Department, Michael Horowitz, announced on Friday that his office will review the secret subpoenas and “examine the department’s compliance with applicable DOJ policies and procedures, and whether any such uses, or the investigations, were based upon improper considerations.”
Sessions was the attorney general at the time of the subpoenas, and had recused himself from matters related to Russia. Barr told Politico on Friday that he doesn’t recall prosecutors investigating lawmakers. According to CNN, former Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein has been privately telling people he was unaware of the subpoenas.
“How could it be that there could be an investigation of members of the other branch of government and the press and the rest, too, and the attorneys general did not know? So who are these people? And are they still in the Justice Department?” Pelosi said. “This is just out of the question ― no matter who’s president, whatever party, this cannot be the way it goes.”
The speaker said that Congress will call Sessions, Barr and Rosenstein to testify. Senate Democratic leaders also demanded the three appear before the Senate Judiciary Committee and will be subject to subpoena if they refuse.
Asked by Bash on Sunday if the House would potentially subpoena the former Justice Department officials to testify, Pelosi said she hopes “they will want to honor the rule of law” before she considers that step.
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