The House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, said on Sunday it was “beyond belief” that the three top justice department officials of Donald Trump’s administration had been unaware of secret subpoenas seeking private data from the former president’s political opponents.
Jeff Sessions, Trump’s first pick as attorney general, his successor, William Barr, and the long-serving deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein have all claimed to have no knowledge of the alleged attempts by their department to harvest information covertly from leading Democrats during the investigation into whether Donald Trump and his campaign utilized links with Russia during the 2016 election, according to CNN.
In expressing skepticism of their claims, Pelosi, a California Democrat, said on CNN’s State of the Union that the actions of a “rogue” justice department were worse than the Watergate scandal.
“What the Republicans did, what the administration did, the justice department, leadership of the former president, goes even beyond Richard Nixon,” she said.
“Richard Nixon had an ending. This is about undermining the rule of law. And for these attorneys general, for Sessions, at least, to say they didn’t know anything about it is beyond belief.”
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In another new development, the New York Times reported on Sunday that Donald McGahn, Donald Trump’s White House counsel, was also the subject of a subpoena issued by the justice department.
The newspaper said that Apple had told McGahn last month that it had released details to the FBI of accounts he had with the company, but it had not informed him of what information was handed over.
The reason for the subpoenas was unclear, the Times reported, noting that a department of justice (DoJ) inquiry into a sitting White House counsel was an extraordinary move.
McGahn testified to Congress and to the Russia investigation led by the special counsel Robert Mueller into alleged collusion between the Trump administration and Russia. McGahn resigned in October 2018 after falling from Trump’s favor by allegedly refusing the president’s order to fire Mueller.
The DoJ announced on Friday it had launched its own internal inquiry into the scandal, first reported by the New York Times, which the newspaper said had begun when prosecutors subpoenaed Apple early in the Trump administration as the DoJ was investigating apparent leaks of classified information.
Their secretive inquiries were allegedly focused on at least a dozen people connected with the House intelligence committee, including the Democratic members Adam Schiff and Eric Swalwell. The Biden White House on Friday called the news “appalling”.
Barr revived the languishing investigation soon after he succeeded Sessions in February 2019, the Times said, despite no evidence being found.
Pelosi said Congress would instigate its own investigation and hinted that Barr, Sessions and Rosenstein could all receive subpoenas to testify.
“Well, let’s hope that they will want to honor the rule of law,” Pelosi said when the CNN host Dana Bash asked what she would do if the trio refused to appear voluntarily.
“The justice department has been rogue under President Trump in so many respects, this is just another manifestation of their rogue activity. The others were perpetrated by the attorneys general, but this is one they claim no knowledge of.
“How could it be that there could be an investigation of other members in the other branch of government, and the press, and the rest, to the end the attorneys general did not know? So who are these people, and are they still in the justice department?”
Rosenstein, as deputy attorney general, would have had authority at the beginning of the investigation because Sessions recused himself from inquiries into the Trump administration’s links to Russia.
In recent days, according to CNN, he has told people he had no knowledge of subpoenas to Apple, which were the subject of multiple gag orders to keep their existence secret. Sessions said on Friday that he too was unaware, while Barr declared on Friday that he “didn’t recall” being briefed about it.