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Justice Dept. to Tighten Rules on Data 06/15 06:17

   

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Justice Department will tighten its rules around 
obtaining records from members of Congress, Attorney General Merrick Garland 
said, amid revelations the department under former President Donald Trump had 
secretly seized records from Democrats and members of the media.

   "Consistent with our commitment to the rule of law," Garland said Monday in 
a statement, "we must ensure that full weight is accorded to 
separation-of-powers concerns moving forward."

   Garland's statement came as a Justice Department official said the top 
national security official, John Demers, planned to leave by the end of next 
week. Demers, who was sworn in a few weeks after the subpoena for the 
Democrats' records, is one of the few Trump appointees who has remained in the 
Biden administration.

   The Justice Department is struggling to contain the fallout over revelations 
that it had confiscated phone data from House Democrats and reporters as part 
of an aggressive investigation into leaks. The disclosure is also forcing Biden 
administration officials to wade back into a fight with their predecessors -- 
something they've wished to avoid.

   News outlets reported last week that the Justice Department had secretly 
subpoenaed Cupertino, California-based Apple Inc. in 2018 for metadata from two 
Democratic members of the House Intelligence Committee -- California Rep. Adam 
Schiff and California Rep. Eric Swalwell -- as their committee was 
investigating Trump's ties to Russia. Schiff, at the time, was the top Democrat 
on the panel, which was led by Republicans.

   Now the House Intelligence Committee Chair, Schiff said Monday that he had 
spoken with Garland, who had given his commitment to an independent 
investigation by the inspector general. Schiff said he had "every confidence" 
that Garland "will also do the kind of top-to-bottom review of the degree to 
which the department was politicized during the previous administration and 
take corrective steps."

   The intelligence panel initially said 12 people connected to the committee 
-- including aides, former aides and family members -- had been swept up, but 
more have since been uncovered, according to a person familiar with the matter 
who also was not authorized to discuss it publicly and spoke to the AP on 
condition of anonymity.

   Some people might not know they were targeted because the Apple notification 
was by email and showed up in the spam filters of some of those who were 
contacted, the person said.

   House Judiciary Committee Chair Rep. Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., announced an 
investigation into the subpoenas on members of Congress and journalists. Senate 
Judiciary Committee Chair Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., demanded a copy of the 
subpoena and other records about the decision to obtain the order.

   Meanwhile, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., lambasted a demand 
by Democrats that former attorneys general William Barr and Jeff Sessions 
testify before a committee on the subpoenas, saying his Democratic colleagues 
had given into the "urge to pick at the scab of politically-motivated 
investigations." He defended Barr, saying the move was a "witch hunt in the 
making."

   "There is no need for a partisan circus here in Congress," he said.

   The subpoena, issued Feb. 6, 2018, requested information on 73 phone numbers 
and 36 email addresses, Apple said. It also included a nondisclosure order that 
prohibited the company from notifying any of the people, and it was renewed 
three times, the company said in a statement.

   Apple said that it couldn't challenge the warrants because it had so little 
information available and that "it would have been virtually impossible for 
Apple to understand the intent of the desired information without digging 
through users' accounts."

   Although Apple says it contests legal requests that it believes are 
unfounded, the company challenged or rejected just 7% of the U.S. demands it 
received during the 2018 period when it received the subpoena for the 
information about Schiff and Swalwell. Apple was even less combative during the 
first half of last year, challenging just 4% of the U.S. legal requests.

   Apple has been turning over some customer data in 80% to 90% of the legal 
requests it has received in the U.S. in recent years, though the information 
often excludes the content of text, email or photos.

   Like other major technology companies, Apple has been dealing with a 
steadily escalating torrent of legal requests for account and device 
information from around the world as its products and services have become more 
deeply ingrained in people's lives.

   During the first half of last year, for instance, U.S. law enforcement 
agencies sought information on 18,609 Apple accounts -- nearly seven times the 
number of accounts requested during the same time in 2015.

   The demands are becoming more broad, too. During the first half of 2018, 
when Apple received the subpoena affecting Schiff and Swalwell, the 2,397 U.S. 
legal requests that Apple received covered an average of seven accounts, 
according to the company's disclosures. That was up from an average of roughly 
three accounts per request during the first half of 2015.

   The department's inspector general has launched a probe into the matter 
after a request from Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco. Inspector General 
Michael Horowitz said he would examine whether the data subpoenaed by the 
Justice Department and turned over by Apple followed department policy and 
"whether any such uses, or the investigations, were based upon improper 
considerations."

   In addition, Monaco has been separately tasked with "surfacing problematic 
matters deserving high level review," Garland said.

   Garland emphasized in his statement Monday that "political or other improper 
considerations must play no role in any investigative or prosecutorial 
decisions."

   Demers has been in charge of the department's national security division 
since late February 2018, and his division has played a role in each of the 
leak investigations. He leaves as questions swirl over his potential 
involvement in the effort.

   He had planned for weeks to leave the department by the end of June, a 
second person familiar with the matter said. The two could not discuss the 
matter publicly and spoke to The Associated Press on the condition of anonymity.

   He will be temporarily replaced by Mark Lesko, the acting U.S. attorney in 
the Eastern District of New York, the official said, until President Joe 
Biden's official pick, Matthew Olsen, is approved by the Senate.

   Olsen is an Uber executive with experience in the Justice Department. He has 
served as director of the National Counterterrorism Center and as general 
counsel for the National Security Agency. Demers had remained in place while 
Olsen awaits a confirmation hearing.

 
 
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