- The DOJ’s top national security official will step down, AP reported on Monday.
- The official, John Demers, announced his intent to resign months ago, a department spokesperson told CNBC.
- Demers will be temporarily replaced by the acting US attorney for the Eastern District of New York.
- See more stories on Insider’s business page.
The top national security official at the Justice Department is resigning amid news that the department secretly seized phone records from House Democrats and some journalists as part of aggressive leak investigations, The Associated Press first reported.
The official, John Demers, oversees the department’s national security division and will be temporarily replaced by Mark Lesko, the acting US attorney for the Eastern District of New York, until a permanent successor is confirmed by the Senate.
A DOJ spokesperson told CNBC that Demers, who will leave his post in two weeks, announced his intention to step down months before news of the seizures broke. The New York Times also reported that Demers’ departure “was arranged months ago” and that he had asked to leave the dpeartment by the summer and eventually agreed to stay on through June 25.
The Times reported that given his high-ranking position, Demers likely would have been briefed on the seizures of House Democrats’ records. DOJ inspector general Michael Horowitz announced on Friday that he would open an investigation into the matter.
The leak investigations targeted House Intelligence Committee members Adam Schiff and Eric Swalwell and took place in 2017 and early 2018 during the FBI’s Russia investigation, The Times reported. The seizures also targeted aides and staffers on the committee, as well as family members of the two lawmakers, one of whom was a minor. Demers began overseeing the national security division in February 2018.
“This is a gross abuse of power and an assault on the separation of powers,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and judiciary committee chairman Dick Durbin said in a joint statement Friday. “This appalling politicization of the Department of Justice by Donald Trump and his sycophants must be investigated immediately by both the DOJ Inspector General and Congress.”
Attorney General Merrick Garland weighed in on the matter on Monday. “There are important questions that must be resolved in connection with an effort by the department to obtain records related to Members of Congress & Congressional staff,” he said in a statement. “I have accordingly directed that the matter be referred to the Inspector General and have full confidence that he will conduct a thorough and independent investigation.”
Garland also said deputy attorney general Lisa Monaco has been tasked with “surfacing potentially problematic matters deserving high level review,” and she will evaluate the department’s policy related to obtaining lawmakers’ records.
“Consistent with our commitment to the rule of law, we must ensure that full weight is accorded to separation-of-powers concerns moving forward,” the statement said.
Former attorneys general Jeff Sessions and Bill Barr and former deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein have all denied knowledge of the seizures of Democrats’ records.
Sessions was attorney general when the subpoenas were issued in January 2018, and sources close to him told The Daily Beast that he was not aware of or briefed on the matter.
Barr, who was confirmed as attorney general in February 2019 (after Trump fired Sessions the previous November) also told Politico that he was “not aware of any congressman’s records being sought in a leak case.” And a source familiar with Rosenstein similarly told CNN the former deputy attorney general didn’t know about the subpoenas.
But top Democratic lawmakers have expressed skepticism of those claims, saying it’s “beyond belief” that Trump’s DOJ leaders weren’t aware of the subpoenas.