File photo shows House Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff (C) and fellow committee member Rep. Eric Swalwell (R).
The Department of Justiceís independent internal watchdog says it will launch an investigation into the secret seizure of data from Democratic lawmakers and journalists as part of an aggressive 2018 leak investigation.
The probe follows a bombshell report by The New York Times saying that the Justice Department under the administration of former President Donald Trump had subpoenaed tech giant Apple for metadata of House Democratic lawmakers and their staff.
DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz confirmed on Friday that he would launch an investigation into the matter, adding that his watchdog agency would look beyond subpoenas to "other legal authorities [used] to obtain communication records ... in connection with recent investigations of alleged unauthorized disclosures of information to the media by government officials."
"The review will examine the Departmentís compliance with applicable DOJ policies and procedures," Horowitz said, "and whether any such uses or the investigations, were based upon improper considerations. If circumstances warrant, the OIG will consider other issues that may arise during the review."
The probe comes as a growing chorus of House Democrats, including the two whose records were secretly subpoenaed-- House Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff and fellow committee member Rep. Eric Swalwell-- have demanded the DOJís inspector general look into the controversy.
Both Schiff and Swalwell were staunch critics of Trumpís presidency. Schiff served as lead prosecutor during Trumpís first Senate impeachment trial, while Swalwell was a prosecutor during the former presidentís second impeachment trial.
In recent weeks, the Department of Justice also notified journalists at three different new outlets that their records were sought in similar leak investigations in an attempt to identify their sources.
íGross abuse of powerí
Following the revelations, Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer and Judiciary Committee Chair Dick Durbin urged two of former President Trumpís attorneys general, William Barr and Jeff Sessions, to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
"The revelation that the Trump Justice Department secretly subpoenaed metadata of House Intelligence Committee Members and staff and their families, including a minor, is shocking. This is a gross abuse of power and an assault on the separation of powers," Schumer and 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," they added.
Meanwhile, Apple admitted on Friday that it had complied with the Justice Departmentís subpoena, but alleged it did not know the department was asking for the metadata of Democratic lawmakers.
Apple said it received a subpoena from a federal grand jury on February 6, 2018, requesting data that belonged to a seemingly random group of email addresses and phone numbers.
In general, tech companies challenge such requests, but in this case, a grand jury and a federal judge forced Apple to comply and issued a gag order against the company to keep the matter quiet. Because of the nondisclosure order, Apple could not notify the people that their data was subpoenaed.
Apple spokesperson Fred Sainz said in a statement that the company did not know who was being targeted by the request.
"We regularly challenge warrants, subpoenas and nondisclosure orders and have made it our policy to inform affected customers of governmental requests about them just as soon as possible," Sainz said in the statement.
"In this case, the subpoena, which was issued by a federal grand jury and included a nondisclosure order signed by a federal magistrate judge, provided no information on the nature of the investigation and it would have been virtually impossible for Apple to understand the intent of the desired information without digging through usersí accounts," he continued.
The gag order was dropped early in May, enabling Apple to alert the targeted users.