Top Democrats say it’s ‘beyond belief’ that Trump DOJ leaders didn’t know about the secret subpoenas targeting their party’s lawmakers

Nancy pelosi
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Win McNamee/Getty Images
  • Trump officials denied knowledge of the DOJ’s subpoenas of Democratic lawmakers’ phone records.
  • Nancy Pelosi said it was “beyond belief” they didn’t know about it.
  • Rep. Eric Swalwell, one of the lawmakers targeted, said the order would’ve required top clearance.
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House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said it was “beyond belief” that Justice Department leaders during Donald Trump’s presidency were ignorant of the department’s secret subpoenas targeting Democratic lawmakers.

Jeff Sessions and Bill Barr – Trump’s two attorneys general – and Rod Rosenstein, who served as deputy attorney general under both men, last week denied knowledge of the orders to seize phone records from lawmakers including Rep. Adam Schiff, who is now the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, and Rep. Eric Swalwell, another Democrat on the panel.

In a Sunday interview on CNN, Pelosi compared the subpoenas to abuses of power by President Richard Nixon and his allies.

-CNN Politics (@CNNPolitics) June 13, 2021

“The Justice Department has been rogue under President Trump in so many respects,” Pelosi said.

“How could it be that there could be an investigation of the members in the other branch of government and the press and the rest too, and the attorneys general did not know?”

She added: “Richard Nixon had an ending. This is about undermining the rule of law. And for these attorneys general, for Sessions, at least, to say they didn’t know anything about it is beyond belief.”

She said the former attorneys general would be called to testify under oath about what they knew as part of a congressional investigation into the data seizure.

In a separate CNN interview Sunday, Swalwell also questioned the denials of the Trump officials.

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“Don’t buy it,” he said. “That’s not the way the department works. I know from my experience on the Intelligence Committee that for special matters – whether it involves the members of Congress or senior members, you know, in the press – this would go to the attorney general’s office.”

The revelation last week that the Trump Justice Department targeted opposition lawmakers has been likened by some critics to the abuse of power in authoritarian regimes.

Schiff and Swalwell were prominent critics of Trump and backers of the theory Trump had conspired with Russia in his 2016 presidential campaign.

The DOJ subpoenas were issued in early 2018 – when Schiff was ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee – and sought the phone data of not only the lawmakers but also their office staff and family members, including one minor.

They were issued as part of an investigation into leaks to the media about investigations into Russian interference and other national security issues.

As part of the subpoenas, Apple was barred from telling the subjects of the investigation that their phone data was being handed to the DOJ. When the Justice Department did not renew the gag order this year, Apple told those whose data had been subpoenaed.

On Sunday, The New York Times also reported that Don McGahn, a White House counsel under Trump, had also been the subject of a DOJ subpoena.

Michael Horowitz, the Justice Department inspector general, has launched an investigation into the seizure of the phone records, the department announced Friday.