WASHINGTON (REUTERS) – The US Congress will probe “rogue” actions by the Justice Department during former president Donald Trump’s term, including its move to seize the communications records of Democratic lawmakers, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on Sunday (June 13).
That review will run in parallel with an investigation by the department’s own internal watchdog into its moves to subpoena phone records of Representatives Adam Schiff and Eric Swalwell, as part of a probe into leaks of classified information.
The Justice Department under former attorneys-general William Barr and Jeff Sessions was regularly accused of putting Mr Trump’s personal and political interests ahead of the law.
“The Justice Department has been rogue under President Trump, understand that, in so many respects. This is just another manifestation of their rogue activity,” Ms Pelosi told CNN’s State Of The Union. A White House official on Friday criticised the Trump administration actions as “appalling”.
During a press conference at the Group of Seven leaders’ summit in Britain, US President Joe Biden could be seen holding a card with talking points on the issue.
“Trump abused power/Trump DOJ out of control. Now we have to clean it up,” the card read, according to images captured by a US network pool camera. “I’ve made it clear this DOJ will reflect my values and principles and priorities – not Donald Trump’s.”
Mr Biden was not asked about the probes during his news conference.
Ms Pelosi said the probe by the department’s inspector-general, Mr Michael Horowitz, would be important but was not a substitute for congressional investigation.
“We have to have them come under oath to testify,” Ms Pelosi said of Mr Barr and Mr Sessions, adding that it was “beyond belief” for them to say they knew nothing about it. Mr Barr told Politico on Friday that he had no recollection of any congressman’s phone records being subpoenaed.
Ms Pelosi sidestepped a question about whether they would be subpoenaed, saying she hoped the pair would appear voluntarily.
Mr Horowitz’s office said on Friday it was launching a review of the department’s use of subpoenas to obtain the communications records of both lawmakers and journalists, including whether “improper considerations” drove those decisions.
The New York Times on Thursday reported that the Trump-era Justice Department subpoenaed Apple for data on Mr Schiff and Mr Swalwell.
Senate Democrats have since demanded that the two former attorneys-general testify, and said the Senate Judiciary Committee is investigating.
Abuse of power?
Senator Susan Collins, one of that chamber’s most moderate Republicans, said on Sunday that she supported the Justice Department’s internal probe.
“Has the Justice Department abused its power by going after members of Congress or the press for partisan political purposes?” she asked in an interview on CBS. She also noted that the question of whether members of Congress had leaked classified information – which the Trump administration was probing in its subpoenas – was a “serious” matter that also bore investigation.
Mr Biden’s attorney-general, Mr Merrick Garland, has come under fire from Democrats in recent weeks for a pair of decisions seen as shielding Mr Trump from scrutiny.
Legal experts said those decisions appeared to reflect a department focused on the law and protecting the institution of the presidency, not on political interests.
Mr Garland also said on Friday that the department would step up its enforcement of election law and warned that a series of unofficial audits of the November presidential election being carried out in a handful of US states may be a violation of federal civil rights laws.
The department under Mr Garland has said it will no longer seek source information from journalists, after CNN, the New York Times and the Washington Post said the Trump administration tried secretly to obtain reporters’ phone records.
Mr Garland is due to meet media executives to discuss the leak probes on Monday, a department spokesman said.