It recently came to light that the Trump-era Department of Justice quietly seized phone records of journalists at the Washington Post, CNN, and the New York Times to suss out their sources as part of the administration’s rabid crackdown on leakers. Well, apparently the witch hunt didn’t stop there: In 2017 and 2018, a grand jury compelled Apple to fork over metadata from the accounts of at least two Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee, according to a Thursday report from the New York Times.
The subpoena also covered records from at least a dozen people connected to the committee members, including aides, family members, and one minor. Records of Representative Adam Schiff of California, committee chairman and a frequent target of Trump’s playground insults, were among those seized, sources familiar with the matter told the Times.
Apple provided the agency with metadata and account information, but did not share photos, emails, or other content, a person familiar with the inquiry told the Times. But that’s hardly a comfort given the well-demonstrated fact that you can still learn a shit ton about a person from their metadata—where they are, what they’re up to—especially when combined with publicly available info such as their social media posts.
All told, prosecutors found no evidence within the seized data that tied the committee members to leakers. Apple was under a gag order from the DOJ that prohibited the company from publicly discussing the matter, according to the Times. That order expired this year, at which point Apple contacted the committee members, who purportedly did not know they were even being investigated. The Post, Times, and CNN similarly had no clue their reporters had been under federal investigation until the DOJ notified each outlet in recent weeks.
Over the years, administrations from both sides of the aisle have relied on court orders to obtain journalists’ records as part of leak investigations. Even still, current and former congressional officials familiar with the inquiry told the Times that they could not recall an instance in which the records of lawmakers were also seized in these cases.
In the wake of the report, Schiff called for the Inspector General to investigate Trump’s “weaponization of law enforcement” in what he denounced as a “terrible abuse of power.”
“It also makes the Department of Justice just a fully owned subsidiary of the president’s personal legal interests and political interests,” he told MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow on Thursday.
The DOJ promised to stop secretly obtaining the records of journalists on Saturday after coming under fire from media outlets, lawmakers, and President Joe Biden, who condemned the practice as “simply, simply wrong” in response to the agency’s latest disclosures.