The Justice Department will make its policies for obtaining records of U.S. lawmakers more rigorous after former President Donald Trump’s administration secretly secured data on members of Congress, journalists and a former White House lawyer, the top U.S. law enforcement official said on Monday.
Attorney General Merrick Garland in a statement also said that “political or other improper considerations must play no role in any investigative or prosecutorial decisions” and that anyone within the department who fails to live up to that principle “will be met with strict accountability.”
Democratic congressional leaders on Sunday vowed to investigate the department’s “rogue” actions under Trump, including its move to obtain the communications records of House of Representatives Democrats Adam Schiff and Eric Swalwell as part of a probe into leaks of classified information. Schiff and Swalwell both were critics of Trump, a Republican.
Garland said he has instructed Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco “to evaluate and strengthen the department’s existing policies and procedures for obtaining records of the Legislative branch.”
“Consistent with our commitment to the rule of law, we must ensure that full weight is accorded to separation-of-powers concerns moving forward,” Garland added, referring to the constitutional system of checks and balances among the U.S. government’s executive, judicial and legislative branches.
The department’s internal watchdog, Inspector General Michael Horowitz, on Friday said his office is launching a review of the use of subpoenas during Trump’s administration to obtain the records of lawmakers and journalists and whether “improper considerations” drove those decisions.
“There are important questions that must be resolved in connection with an effort by the department to obtain records related to members of Congress and congressional staff,” Garland added.
Garland said that if action related to Horowitz’s investigation is warranted, “I will not hesitate to move swiftly.”