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DOJ Subpoenaed Apple For Data On Trump White House Lawyer

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

There is more news today about the actions of the Trump-era Justice Department. NPR has learned that the department secretly subpoenaed Apple in 2018 for account information of then White House counsel Don McGahn. This follows other recent revelations about the Justice Department and its use of secret subpoenas during the Trump administration.

NPR justice correspondent Ryan Lucas is with us now to tell us more. Ryan, thanks for joining us.

RYAN LUCAS, BYLINE: Thanks for having me.

MARTIN: So what more can you tell us about the McGahn subpoena?

LUCAS: Well, a source tells me that the Justice Department subpoenaed Apple, as you said, back in February of 2018 for account information of McGahn and his wife, actually. Nobody knew about this at the time because the department got a gag order which barred Apple from telling McGahn or his wife or anybody else about it. That gag order recently lifted, and that then allowed the company to inform McGahn about the subpoena. The New York Times was the first to report all of this.

Now, my source tells me that this - that it's unclear whether the Justice Department actually obtained any account information. It's also unclear why the department, which was, of course, under the Trump administration at the time, did this. It's not clear what they were looking for, what they were investigating. But the bottom line here is that it is stunning for the Justice Department to subpoena the records of a sitting White House counsel.

MARTIN: Well, you know, it is stunning in part because he was part of that administration, but we've seen similar revelations in recent days with subpoenas targeting Democratic lawmakers, right?

LUCAS: That's right. That, too, happened - a similar timeline, early 2018. In that instance, the Justice Department subpoenaed Apple again for communications metadata of two Democratic members of the House Intelligence Committee, Adam Schiff and Eric Swalwell, as well as current and former staff and even family. The government got a gag order in that case, too, and Apple was able to inform the committee only last month about the subpoena.

This was part of a hunt for leaks to the media. Now, the affected lawmakers say they've been told by the Justice Department that the investigation has been closed. Nobody from the committee was implicated in these leaks or in any of the leaks. We also know that the department had subpoenaed records of reporters from The Washington Post, CNN and The New York Times. All of this raises a lot of questions about how far the Trump administration, the Justice Department under the Trump administration, went to try to track down the sources of leaks to the media.

MARTIN: So the White House counsel in the Trump White House, lawmakers and journalists have all been swept up in this. Do you have a sense, Ryan, based on your reporting, whether there will be more revelations like this to come out?

LUCAS: It's a really good question, but we really just don't know right now. What we do know is that the Justice Department's inspector general, Michael Horowitz, has opened an investigation of the department's use of subpoenas to obtain communication records of members of Congress and journalists. The inspector general can always expand the scope of that. The review is going to take a look at whether the proper policies were followed in these investigations and whether any of this was based on improper considerations.

That's happening inside the Justice Department. But there's also a lot of political blowback to all of this on Capitol Hill. Already, the Senate majority leader, Chuck Schumer, and the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Dick Durbin, have called on Trump's Attorneys General Jeff Sessions and Bill Barr to testify under oath. They say they're ready to subpoena them if those two gentlemen don't appear voluntarily. So, bottom line, this is not over. We have not heard the end of this.

MARTIN: That is NPR's Ryan Lucas. Ryan, thank you so much.

LUCAS: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.