The Trump-era Justice Department’s decision to secretly seize data of Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee went even beyond the nefarious actions of former President Richard Nixon, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Sunday.
The California Democrat also believes former Attorneys General Jeff Sessions and William Barr, as well as former Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, should testify before Congress.
“What the administration did, the Justice Department, the leadership of the former President goes even beyond Richard Nixon. Richard Nixon had an enemies list. This is about undermining the rule of law,” Pelosi told CNN’s Dana Bash Sunday on “State of the Union.”
Prosecutors in the Trump administration’s Justice Department in 2018 subpoenaed Apple for data from the accounts of House Intelligence Committee Democrats along with their staff and family members as part of a leak investigation. Prosecutors were reportedly hunting for the sources behind news stories about contacts between Russia and Trump associates. Reps. Adam Schiff, who chairs the committee, and Eric Swalwell of California have revealed they were targeted.
The speaker added that the House will review the matter, and the Justice Department’s inspector general will also look into how the investigation was handled.
Sessions, who was attorney general at the time of the subpoena, had recused himself from matters related to Russia. Barr told Politico on Friday he doesn’t recall discussing a probe of lawmakers and CNN has reported that Rosenstein has privately been telling people he was not aware of the subpoena.
Pelosi on Sunday expressed disbelief at the idea that Sessions, Barr and Rosenstein were unaware of this activity within the Justice Department.
“How could it be that there could be an investigation of members of the other branch of government and the press and the rest, too, and the attorneys general did not know? So who are these people? And are they still in the Justice Department?” she said. “This is just out of the question — no matter who’s president, whatever party, this cannot be the way it goes.”
Asked by Bash on Sunday about potentially subpoenaing the three former Trump Justice Department officials to testify, Pelosi said she hoped “they will want to honor the rule of law” before the House would need to consider that step.
Biden DOJ faces criticism
Appearing later on “State of the Union,” Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York took aim at the Justice Department under President Joe Biden, saying a number of recent actions by the department have prevented it from being as “transformational” as some people hoped for.
“I think the actions of Biden’s DOJ has been extremely concerning and it’s not just on the actions on gag orders, which is also extremely concerning, but across the board,” she told Bash, referring to gag orders placed on tech companies and others, including CNN general counsel David Vigilante, which prohibited him from sharing any details about the government’s efforts to obtain the email records of a CNN reporter with anyone beyond the network’s president, top attorneys at CNN’s corporate parent and attorneys at an outside law firm. The orders, which began under the Trump Justice Department, expired this year under the Biden administration. But the Justice Department under Attorney General Merrick Garland has not come forth to let the public know about the activity.
Ocasio-Cortez continued: “While I believe that the (department’s) emphasis on voting rights is appreciated, we aren’t seeing a transformational DOJ that I think people had been looking forward to. And that is something that deserves a lot more questions.”
The department has come under fire by Democrats in recent days after officials there made a number of controversial decisions, including an announcement that the DOJ would defend the right of religious schools to discriminate against LGBTQ students and the department’s decision to argue that it should be allowed to protect Trump from a defamation lawsuit brought by a longtime magazine columnist who accused him of rape, a move that would hugely benefit Trump by likely ending the litigation. Trump has denied raping the columnist.
This story has been updated with additional comments from Pelosi and Ocasio-Cortez, and background information.