The Trump administration’s attempt to secretly gain access to data of individual members of Congress and others connected to the panel came as the president was fuming publicly and privately over investigations — in Congress and by then-special counsel Robert Mueller — into his campaign’s ties to Russia. Trump called the probes a “witch hunt," regularly criticized Schiff and other Democrats on Twitter and repeatedly dismissed as “fake news” leaks he found personally harmful to his agenda. As the investigations swirled around him, he demanded loyalty from a Justice Department he often regarded as his personal law firm.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said in a statement that “these actions appear to be yet another egregious assault on our democracy” waged by the former president.
“The news about the politicization of the Trump Administration Justice Department is harrowing," she said.
Schiff, now the panel’s chair, confirmed in a statement Thursday evening that the Justice Department had informed the committee in May that the investigation was closed. Still, he said, "I believe more answers are needed, which is why I believe the Inspector General should investigate this and other cases that suggest the weaponization of law enforcement by a corrupt president.”
The Justice Department told the intelligence panel then that the matter had not transferred to any other entity or investigative body, the committee official said, and the department confirmed that to the committee again on Thursday.
The panel has continued to seek additional information, but the Justice Department has not been forthcoming in a timely manner, including on questions such as whether the investigation was properly predicated and whether it only targeted Democrats, the committee official said.
It is unclear why Trump's Justice Department would have targeted a minor as part of the probe. Swalwell, confirming that he was told his records were siezed, told CNN Thursday evening that he was aware a minor was involved and “I believe they were targeted punitively and not for any reason in law.”
Another Democrat on the intelligence panel, Illinois Rep. Mike Quigley, said he did not find it even “remotely surprising” that Trump went after committee members' records during the Russia probe.
“From my first days as part of the Russia investigation, I expected that eventually, someone would attempt this – I just wasn’t sure if it would be a hostile government or my own," Quigley said.
There's no indication that the Justice Department used the records to prosecute anyone. After some of the information was declassified and made public during the later years of the Trump administration, there was concern among some of the prosecutors that even if they could bring a leak case, trying it would be difficult and a conviction would be unlikely, one of the people said. Federal agents questioned at least one former committee staff member in 2020, the person said, and ultimately, prosecutors weren’t able to substantiate a case.
The news follows revelations that the Justice Department had secretly seized phone records belonging to reporters at The New York Times, The Washington Post and CNN as part of criminal leak investigations. Following an outcry from press freedom organizations, the Justice Department announced last week that it would cease the practice of going after journalists' sourcing information.
Associated Press writer Eric Tucker contributed to this report.