Schiff calls for inquiry after report that Trump DOJ targeted Democrats

Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., denounced the "politicization" of government under former President Donald Trump on Thursday after The New York Times reported that the Justice Department targeted records of the communications of key Democratic lawmakers, their aides and family members.

He also called for an inquiry into what he said amounted to a “terrible abuse of power.”

"It violates, I think, the separation of powers, but it also makes the Department of Justice a fully owned subsidiary of the president's personal legal interests," Schiff, who was targeted in the subpoena, said in an interview with MSNBC's Rachel Maddow.

Schiff, the chairman of the Intelligence Committee, did not name who else had been targeted, and he said he did not know whether Republican members were included, adding that the subpoenas were "extraordinarily broad."

In a separate statement, Schiff said: "President Trump 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. 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."

Schiff said that although the inquiry appears to be closed, there should be an internal investigation.

"Though we were informed by the Department in May that this investigation is closed, I believe more answers are needed, which is why I believe the Inspector General should investigate this and other cases that suggest the weaponization of law enforcement by a corrupt president," he said in his statement.

The Times reported that the Justice Department subpoenaed metadata in February 2018 from the tech giant Apple related to the accounts of at least two Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee, as well as aides and family members, including a minor child.

At the time, the Intelligence Committee was investigating Russian interference into the 2016 election and interviewing witnesses behind closed doors. Schiff and other Democrats on the committee became some of the most vocal critics of Trump in Congress.

Speaking late Thursday to CNN's Don Lemon, Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., said Apple had told him that his records, too, had been sought.

Apple notified some members of the committee last month that their information had been included, a committee official confirmed to NBC News. Apple also notified current and former staff members and relatives, including a minor child, that their information had been subject to subpoenas, the official said.

The committee asked the Justice Department for more details and was informed last month that the matter had been closed, the official said.

The investigation initially was launched, The Times reported, to find the source of leaks of classified information early in the Trump administration. Former Attorney General Jeff Sessions began the inquiry, and it was revived under his successor, William Barr.

The Times reported that, ultimately, the investigation did not connect anyone on the committee to the leaks.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., echoed Schiff's call for an inquiry into the matter, calling it a "weaponization of law enforcement by the former president."

“The news about the politicization of the Trump Administration Justice Department is harrowing. These actions appear to be yet another egregious assault on our democracy waged by the former president," she said.

Senate Finance Committee Chair Ron Wyden, D-Ore., in a statement said the pursuit of the phone records was “a direct attack on the separation of powers and Congressional independence” and called for an investigation of Sessions and Barr.

“There must be a full investigation of abuses under former Attorneys General Sessions and Barr, and anyone at DOJ who was complicit in these abuses of power cannot be trusted to continue serving in government,” the statement said.

The Justice Department declined to comment.

MADDOW: You released a statement tonight, and you spoke with "The Times" as well, calling on the inspector general, the independent inspector general inside the Justice Department, to look into this, to investigate this essentially as the — potentially, the weaponization of law enforcement for political purposes. 

Can you explain to our audience, to people who hear this as kind of an extension of what they've heard about going after reporters' records, who may not necessarily grasp why this is — why this is a big deal, why this is something that hasn't happened before? Why is it such a big deal? Why would it be perhaps unprecedented, at least very unusual thing for a member of Congress to have records like this seized by a Justice Department?

SCHIFF: Well, it's, you know, really norm within norm within norm being broken here. The first and most important norm post-Watergate is the president of the United States does not get involved in particular cases at the Justice Department, doesn't urge the Justice Department to investigate particular people. That's one very important norm.

Beyond that, the president of the United States doesn't urge the department to investigate his political adversaries or his political enemies. That is even a more important norm.

And then I think even beyond that, you have the specter of a president who is himself under investigation by our committee, calling for an unprecedented subpoena — unprecedented subpoenas for account information pertaining to members of Congress, to staff members, to family members, even to a minor child.

And that — that is, I think, a terrible abuse of power. It violates, I think, the separation of powers. But it also makes the Department of Justice just a fully owned subsidiary of the president's personal legal interests and political interests. And that does such damage to the department.

So, it's extraordinary, maybe unprecedented for the department to seek records like this of a member of Congress or staff of a member of Congress or staff of a committee, to do so in a partisan way, to do so when they're investigating him, to do so openly calling on his department. It's hard to express just how shocking an abuse of power this really is.

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