AG Garland Tightens Rules Around Obtaining Records From Member of Congress

WASHINGTON (June 14, 2021) — The Justice Department will tighten its rules around obtaining records from members of Congress, Attorney General Merrick Garland said Monday, 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 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.

Members of the United States Congress from 1789 to the present based on public reports of investigations and settlements, felony convictions, and official acts by Congress (and more, see the sidebar).  All members are innocent until proven guilty.

Members of Congress Accused of Misconduct Between 2019  Thru 2021

Rep. Lloyd Smucker [R-PA11]

ethics violation unresolved

Rep. Smucker was accused of failing to complete security screening on May 19, 2021 and fined $5,000 by the House Committee on Ethics. He has 30 days to appeal the fine.

May. 24, 2021 House Committee on Ethics announced the member’s fine

Rep. Virginia Foxx [R-NC5]

ethics violation unresolved

Rep. Foxx was accused of failing to complete security screening on May 13, 2021 and fined $5,000 by the House Committee on Ethics. She has 30 days to appeal the fine.

May. 18, 2020 House Committee on Ethics announced the member’s fine

Rep. James “Jim” Clyburn [D-SC6]

ethics violation resolved

Rep. Clyburn was accused of failing to complete security screening on April 20, 2021 and fined $5,000 by the House Committee on Ethics. He is allowed to, and is, appealing the fine. On May 20, a majority of the Committee agreed to Clyburn’s appeal.

Apr. 23, 2021 House Committee on Ethics began a review of the member’s appeal of his fine.
May. 20, 2021 House Committee on Ethics agreed to the member’s appeal of his fine.

Rep. Harold “Hal” Rogers [R-KY5]

ethics violation resolved

Rep. Rogers was accused of failing to complete security screening on April 14, 2021 and fined $5,000 by the House Committee on Ethics. He is allowed to, and is, appealing the fine. On May 20, a majority of the Committee agreed to Roger’s appeal.

Apr. 20, 2021 House Committee on Ethics began a review of the member’s appeal of his fine.
May. 20, 2021 House Committee on Ethics agreed to the member’s appeal of his fine.

Rep. Tom Reed [R-NY23]

sexual harassment & abuse unresolved

On April 9, 2021, the House Committee on Ethics opened an investigation into allegations that Reed was engaging in sexual misconduct.

Apr. 9, 2021 House Committee on Ethics opened an investigation into Reed.

Rep. Matt Gaetz [R-FL1]

bribery & corruption other crimes ethics violation sexual harassment & abuse campaign & elections unresolved

On March 30, 2021, the New York Times reported that the Department of Justice was investigating Rep. Matt Gaetz over allegedly engaging in a sexual relationship with an underage girl. Over the ensuing two weeks, the allegations expanded signficantly and on April 9 the House Committee on Ethics opened an investigation into allegations that Gaetz was engaging in a sexual relationship with underage girl, using illicit drugs, sharing inappropriate images or videos on the House floor, misusing state identification records, converting campaign funds to personal use, and/or accepting a bribe, improper gratuity, or impermissible gift.

Mar. 30, 2021 The New York Times reported that the Department of Justice was investigating Rep. Matt Gaetz over allegedly engaging in a sexual relationship with an underage girl. 
Apr. 9, 2021 House Committee on Ethics opened an investigation into Gaetz.

Rep. Louie Gohmert [R-TX1]

ethics violation resolved

Rep. Gohmert was accused of failing to complete security screening on February 4, 2021 and fined $5,000 by the House Committee on Ethics. He appealed on February 26 and the appeal was denied by a majority of the committee on March 30, 2021.

Mar. 11, 2021 House Committee on Ethics began a review of the member’s appeal of his fine.
Mar. 30, 2021 House Committee on Ethics announced that Gohmert’s February 26 appeal was denied.

Rep. Andrew Clyde [R-GA9]

ethics violation resolved

Rep. Clyde was accused of failing to complete security screening on February 3, 2021 and fined $5,000 by the House Committee on Ethics. He is allowed to, and is, appealing the fine. On April 12, the Committee rejected Clyde’s appeals.

Mar. 11, 2021 House Committee on Ethics began a review of the member’s appeal of his fine.
Apr. 12, 2021 House Committee on Ethics a majority of the Committee refused to accept Clyde’s appeal and his fines stand.

Rep. Russ Fulcher [R-ID1]

other crimes unresolved

Rep. Fulcher was accused of assaulting a Capitol Police officer when refusing to fully comply with security procedures before entering the House floor on January 12, 2021. That the Capitol Police were investigating became public when they interviewed a Huffington Post reporter who’d witnessed the event as part of the investigation.

Feb. 17, 2021 U.S. Capitol Police interviewed a Huffington Post reporter who’d observed and reported the incident being investigated.

Rep. Andy Harris [R-MD1]

other crimes unresolved

Rep. Harris was accused of attempting to carry a concealed firearm onto the House floor on January 21, 2021. That the Capitol Police were investigating became public when they interviewed a Huffington Post reporter who’d witnessed the event as part of the investigation.

Feb. 17, 2021 U.S. Capitol Police interviewed a Huffington Post reporter who’d observed and reported the incident being investigated.

Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen [R-FL27, 2013-2018]

campaign & elections unresolved

Former Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen is under federal investigation by the Justice Department for allegedly spending campaign money on personal trips while in her final Congressional term.

Sep. 25, 2020 Former Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen is under federal investigation by the Justice Department for allegedly spending campaign money on personal trips. 

Rep. Steven Watkins [R-KS2, 2019-2020]

campaign & elections unresolved

In 2020, the district attorney of Shawnee County, KS, charged Rep. Watkins with three felonies after he voted in the wrong city council district in a 2019 municipal election and subsequently lied to law enforcement. On July 17, 2020, in accordance with House GOP conference rules, Rep. Watkins stepped down from his committee positions. In August 2020, Rep. Watkins lost in the Kansas primary and will leave Congress in January 2021. On August 14, the House Ethics Committee established an Investigative Subcommittee.

Jul. 14, 2020 The district attorney of Shawnee County, KS, charged Rep. Watkins with three felonies.
Jul. 17, 2020 In accordance with House GOP conference rules, Rep. Watkins stepped down from his committee positions. 
Aug. 4, 2020 Watkins lost in the Kansas Republican primary.
Aug. 14, 2020 House Committee on Ethics established an Investigative Subcommittee.

Sen. Kelly Loeffler [R-GA, 2020-2021]

bribery & corruption resolved

At some point between March 2020 when news broke that stocks owned by Sen. Loeffler were sold right after a committee briefing on the possible trajectory of covid19 and June 17, 2020, the Senate Ethics Committee opened an investigation into the trades. On June 17, they sent a letter to Sen. Loeffler informing her than since the Department of Justice had ended its investigation, they would too. No record of the investigation or the letter are available publicly.

Jun. 17, 2020 Senate Committee on Ethics closed an investigation after the Department of Justice also closed its investigation

Rep. Sanford Bishop [D-GA2]

bribery & corruption campaign & elections unresolved

In June 2020, the House Committee on Ethics announced it would continue an investigation into Rep. Bishop for unstated reasons based on an unpublished February 2020 referral from the Office of Congressional Ethics. On July 31, the House Committee on Ethics published the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) Report and Findings and the member’s response. The OCE reported that the allegations were of spending Members’ Representational Allowance (MRA) funds on holiday events in his district and converting campaign funds to personal use

Jun. 16, 2020 House Committee on Ethics continue an investigation based on an unpublished February 2020 referral from the Office of Congressional Ethics 
Jul. 31, 2020 House Committee on Ethics published the Office of Congressional Ethics Report and Findings and the member’s response.

Sen. Richard Burr [R-NC]

bribery & corruption unresolved

In March 2020, Sen. Burr was accused of covid19 stock profiteering by selling stocks based on information learned in non-public briefings. On March 20, Sen. Burr asked the Senate Select Committee on Ethics to open an investigation into his actions. There is no indication that the Committee has acted on his request. On March 30, news reports indicated that the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) and the Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC) were investigating Sen. Burr. On May 14, Sen. Burr stepped down as chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee after it was reported that the FBI had seized his mobile phone.

Mar. 17, 2020 Sen. Burr asked the Senate Select Committee on Ethics to open an investigation into his actions.
Mar. 30, 2020 Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) and the Securities & Exchange Commission (SEC) began an investigation
May. 13, 2020 The FBI seized Sen. Burr’s mobile phone.
May. 14, 2020 Sen. Burr stepped down as chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Rep. Lori Trahan [D-MA3]

campaign & elections resolved

In September 2019, Trahan was accused of accepting excessive campaign contributions and failing to file required disclosure documents. In December 2019, the House Committee on Ethics published the Office of Congressional Ethics Report and Findings and the member’s response. In July 2020, the House Committee on Ethics published its report dismissing the charges since the alleged excessive contributions were part of joint holdings with her spouse and any reporting errors were unintentional.

Aug. 18, 2019 Office of Congressional Ethics recommended further review by the House Committee on Ethics
Dec. 17, 2019 House Committee on Ethics published the Office of Congressional Ethics Report and Findings and the member’s response.
Jul. 16, 2020 House Committee on Ethics published its report dismissing the charges since the alleged excessive contributions were part of joint holdings with her spouse and any reporting errors were unintentional. 

Rep. Rashida Tlaib [D-MI13]

campaign & elections resolved

In 2019, Tlaib was accused of reporting improper campaign expenditures. In August, the Office of Congressional Ethics recommended further review by the House Committee on Ethics. In November, the House Committee on Ethics published the Office of Congressional Ethics Report and Findings and the member’s response. In August 2020, the House Committee on Ethics found that while Rep. Tlaib did receive campaign funds for personal use after the 2018 general election, it was an error and not malfeasance. She is fined $10,800, the amount she received after the election.

Aug. 16, 2019 Office of Congressional Ethics recommended further review by the House Committee on Ethics.
Nov. 15, 2019 House Committee on Ethics published the Office of Congressional Ethics Report and Findings and the member’s response.
Aug. 7, 2020 House Committee on Ethics fined Rep. Tlaib $10,800, the amount of campaign funds she received after the election and concluded that it was an error, not malfeasance. 

Rep. Ross Spano [R-FL15, 2019-2020]

other crimes campaign & elections unresolved

In 2019, Spano was accused of receiving improper and excessive loans for his election campaign. In August, the Office of Congressional Ethics recommended further review by the House Committee on Ethics. In November, the House Committee on Ethics deferred its investigation to the Department of Justice.

Aug. 16, 2019 Office of Congressional Ethics recommended further review by the House Committee on Ethics.
Nov. 14, 2019 House Committee on Ethics deferred its investigation to the Department of Justice.

Rep. Bill Huizenga [R-MI2]

campaign & elections unresolved

In 2019, Huizenga was accused of accepting campaign contributions from staff and making improper campaign expenditures. In August, the Office of Congressional Ethics recommended further review by the House Committee on Ethics. In November, the House Committee on Ethics published the Office of Congressional Ethics Report.

Aug. 16, 2019 Office of Congressional Ethics recommended further review by the House Committee on Ethics.
Nov. 14, 2019 House Committee on Ethics published the Office of Congressional Ethics Report.

Rep. Alcee Hastings [D-FL20, 2013-2021]

bribery & corruption sexual harassment & abuse resolved

In 2019, Hastings was alleged to have engaged in improper relationship with a staff member and received improper gifts and/or forebearance from the staff member. The House Committee on Ethics began an investigation. In 2020, the House Committee on Ethics closed the investigation since the employee was his spouse, gifts from family are acceptable and their employment did not violate any House rules when they were hired.

Nov. 4, 2019 House Committee on Ethics began an investigation
Jun. 12, 2020 House Committee on Ethics closed the investigation since Hastings employee was his spouse, gifts from family are acceptable and her employment did not violate any House rules when she was hired. 

Rep. Michael San Nicolas [D-GU0]

sexual harassment & abuse campaign & elections unresolved

In 2019, San Nicolas was alleged to have engaged in a sexual relationship with a staff member, converted campaign funds to personal use and/or accepted improper or excessive campaign contributions. The House Committee on Ethics began an investigation. In 2020, the House Committee on Ethicsestablished an Investigative Subcommittee to further investigate the allegations following a referral from the Office of Congressional Ethics. In 2021, the Investigative Subcommittee was reauthorized for the 117th Congress.

Oct. 24, 2019 House Committee on Ethics began an investigation
Jun. 12, 2020 House Committee on Ethics established an Investigative Subcommittee following a referral from the Office of Congressional Ethics 
May. 20, 2021 House Committee on Ethics reauthorized the Investigative Subcommittee for the 117th Congress

Rep. Katie Hill [D-CA25, 2019-2019]

sexual harassment & abuse resolved

In October 2019, nude photos of Rep. Hill were published by conservative websites along with the allegation that she was having a sexual relationship with her Chief of Staff. Rep. Hill claimed that the photos & allegation came from her soon to be ex-husband as part of their divorce. Rep. Hill denied that allegation, which would have been a violation of House rules, but did acknowledge a relationship with a campaign staff member which is not against House rules. A few days after the House Ethics Committee opened an investigation into Rep. Hill, she resigned from Congress.

Oct. 23, 2019 House Committee on Ethics began an investigation.
Oct. 27, 2019 Resigned from Congress.

Rep. Raúl Grijalva [D-AZ3]

ethics violation unresolved

At an unspecified date during Rep. Grijalva’s service in Congress, he was accused of creating a hostile work environment and being frequently drunk. The claims, always denied by Grijalva, were resolved with a severance payment in 2015 although none of this became public until 2017. According to news reports, Grijalva was cleared by the House Ethics Committee letter in Dec 2018. Now, his case is apparently being reviewed by the House Committee on Ethics, although what for and why is unknown.

May. 15, 2018 Office of Congressional Ethics recommended further review by the House Committee on Ethics
Dec. 14, 2018 House Committee on Ethics dismissed complaint.
Jun. 17, 2019 House Committee on Ethics reviewing the same complaint.

Rep. Matt Gaetz [R-FL1]

bribery & corruption ethics violation resolved

In February 2019, Gaetz posted a threatening tweet aimed at Michael Cohen, President Trump’s former personal attorney the night before Cohen was scheduled to testify before the House Judiciary Committee regarding crimes for which Cohen had been found guilty and in which, according to federal prosecutors, the President participated. Gaetz was referred to the Florida Bar for investigation and possible discipline. In August 2019, the Florida Bar announced it had found “no probable cause” that Gaetz had violated its rules and closed its investigation. In August 2020, the House Committee on Ethics admonished Gaetz for unprofessional behavior.

Feb. 27, 2019 Florida Bar Association opened an investigation against Gaetz for attempted witness intimidation.
May. 8, 2019 Florida Bar Association moved the investigation to the Grievance Committee to decide whether or not there is probable cause that Gaetz broke Florida Supreme Court rules for lawyers. 
Mar. 13, 2019 House Committee on Ethics after receipt of a member complaint, the committee began a review of Gaetz’s tweet.
May. 13, 2019 Gaetz refused to appear for an interview with the committee.
Jun. 28, 2019 House Committee on Ethics on May 16 the Committee warned Gaetz that further non-compliance would result in an Investigative Subcommittee; he continued to refuse to appear for an interview and they established the Investigative Subcommittee in June. 
Aug. 14, 2019 Florida Bar Association closed its investigation with a finding of no probable cause of rule violation.
Aug. 21, 2020 House Committee on Ethics published the report of the Investigative Subcommittee admonishing Gaetz for unprofessional behavior. 

Read the entire list here.

Source: AP News

 

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