As the Justice Department investigated who was behind leaks of classified information early in the Trump administration, it took a highly unusual step: Prosecutors subpoenaed Apple for data from the accounts of at least two Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee, aides, and family members. One was a minor.
All told, the records of at least a dozen people tied to the committee were seized in 2017 and early 2018, including those of Representative Adam B. Schiff of California, then the panel’s top Democrat and now its chairman, according to committee officials and two other people briefed on the inquiry. Representative Eric Swalwell of California said in an interview Thursday night that he had also been notified that his data had been subpoenaed.
Prosecutors, under the beleaguered attorney general, Jeff Sessions, were hunting for the sources behind news media reports about contacts between Trump associates and Russia. Ultimately, the data and other evidence did not tie the committee to the leaks, and investigators debated whether they had hit a dead end and some even discussed closing the inquiry.
But William P. Barr revived languishing leak investigations after he became attorney general a year later. He moved a trusted prosecutor from New Jersey with little relevant experience to the main Justice Department to work on the Schiff-related case and about a half-dozen others, according to three people with knowledge of his work who did not want to be identified discussing federal investigations. The New York Times (By Katie Benner, Nicholas Fandos, Michael S. Schmidt, and Adam Goldman)
Analysis: Government leaks are as common as snow melting in springtime. Information is power. And some things just need to see the light of day. Remember “Deep Throat?” Remember Watergate?
News papers in general and journalists specifically have a duty to sniff out a story and make sure truth gets published. The news keeps government honest, and to the point, it keeps politicians beholden to their oath to protect and defend the Constitution and represent their constituencies honorably.
Historically, authoritarians hate the press, especially a press protected by a Bill of Rights. Rights of the masses invariably hinder in one way or another an authoritarian’s hunger for more power. Every time I hear a hard-nosed journalist asking tough questions, especially to a politician, I thank the lord I live in a land that constitutionally values and protects the free press and all the privileges associated with it. On the flip side, I shudder when I hear politicians, especially the president of the United States, excoriate the press.
But things get dicey when investigations get underway. The Department of Justice has an obligation to investigate unlawful acts. Leaking classified information could compromise national security, and under the Espionage Act, if found guilty, a person who is found in violation can be sent to prison where they belong.
But what about a citizen’s rights to privacy? At what point do government investigators, given carte blanche authority to subpoena and view private records, overstep their lawful bounds? It’s a fair question to ask, “At what point do the investigators of lawbreaking actually become lawbreakers themselves?”
And back to the issue of Watergate, where would we be if FBI Associate Director Mark Felt, (Deep Throat) would’ve held back on disclosing information to journalist Bob Woodward?
The constant engagement of citizens living in a free land to hold their government representatives accountable is absolutely necessary as a means to protect against tyranny. Leaking information related to malfeasance is a necessary part of the process in some cases. Otherwise, government officials would only declare their unlawful actions as “top secret” to cover their tracks and bury their misdeeds. The U.S. Federal government and its workers will always be beholden to the people. It’s critical to the continued existence and freedoms of the United States of America that it remains so.