President Richard Nixon had his infamous “Enemies List.” However, as pointed out by veterans of the Watergate scandal, Nixon never went as far as Donald Trump in subpoenaing the communications of members of the press and Democratic members of Congress. The Trump Justice Department, through Attorneys General Jeff Session and William Barr and acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker, sought and received the private communications of reporters for CNN, The Washington Post, and The New York Times, as well as the editor of WayneMadsenReport.com. Also sought were the emails and phone records of then-White House Counsel Don McGahn and his wife, Senate Intelligence Committee chairman Adam Schiff (D-CA), and Intelligence Committee member Eric Swalwell (D-CA). In addition, before it decided to drop the subpoena, the Biden Justice Department sought the identities of the on-line readers of a particular February USA Today story on the killing of two FBI agents in Florida by a child pornography suspect.
The communications of the families of Democratic members of the Intelligence Committee and their aides, including those of at least one minor, were also subpoenaed by the Trump Justice Department. The criminal predicate for the subpoenas of the media and Congress was to find leaks of classified information, but that was the same lame excuse Nixon used to authorize his White House Plumbers’ Unit to violate the privacy of American citizens.
The recipients of the subpoenas for phone and email records were Apple and Microsoft. Apple was required to hand over metadata on over 100 accounts. The collection of private communications by the Trump administration appears to have been part of a major fishing operation that lasted from 2017 through 2019 and into the first half of 2020, which represents practically the entirety of Trump’s term in office and is a major indication of his malfeasance of office.
Barr’s Justice Department sought this editor’s Apple and Microsoft (Hotmail) records on March 29, 2019. Microsoft acceded to the subpoena on April 10, 2019. Microsoft and Apple were under gag orders not to reveal the subpoena of private customer communications. The Microsoft gag order on this editor was not lifted until May 27, 2020. The gag order on Apple was lifted on March 13, 2020.
Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco ordered Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz to conduct an investigation of the subpoenas of the communications of Democratic members of Congress and reporters. Among the reporters whose metadata was subpoenaed were Barbara Starr, CNN’s Pentagon correspondent; Washington Post reporters Ellen Nakashima and Greg Miller and former Post reporter Adam Entous; and New York Times reporters Matt Apuzzo, Adam Goldman, Eric Lichtblau, and Michael S. Schmidt.
For some other Democratic members of Congress, an IG investigation of such a major and systematic violation of the Constitution is considered inadequate and there have been calls for a special counsel to be named to probe Trump’s spying operation. As one of the targeted reporters, this editor would prefer an investigation more robust than that of Horowitz, someone who has been the IG since 2012 and may suffer from too much bias in favor of Justice Department prosecutors and other officials.
In taking on his review of the spying on members of Congress and the media, Horowitz’ mealy-mouthed comments do not inspire any confidence that he will conduct an aggressive probe: “The review will examine the Department’s compliance with applicable DOJ policies and procedures, 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.” Note that the term “improper” does not carry the same weight as “illegal.” There is a concern that Attorney General Merrick Garland, a former US appellate judge, may be such a departmental institutionalist that he will soft-peddle any findings of improper behavior or criminality by Justice career prosecutors and others.
Barr, Sessions, and former Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein have denied any knowledge of the spying operation on behalf of Trump.
Previously published in the Wayne Madsen Report.
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Wayne Madsen is a Washington, DC-based investigative journalist, author and nationally-distributed columnist. A member of the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) and the National Press Club. He is the editor and publisher of the Wayne Madsen Report (subscription required).