- Former President Trump’s Justice Department secretly obtained phone records from Washington Post journalists covering Russia’s involvement in the 2016 election, the outlet reported Friday.
- The DOJ seized records of the work, home, and cellphone numbers of three reporters from April 15 to July 31, 2017. Those records included who the calls were with and how long they were, but not what was said.
- Many journalists and Free Speech activists condemned the action and called on the Biden administration to end the practice of record subpoenas, which are often used by the government to find clues about possible sources and can harm key newsgathering.
- A DOJ spokesperson defended the previous administration’s actions, arguing that the news media are not the targets of such investigations but rather, “those with access to the national defense information who provided it to the media and thus failed to protect it as lawfully required.”
Washington Post Reporters Subpoenaed
The Washington Post reported Friday that the Justice Department under former President Donald Trump secretly obtained phone records from some of its journalists regarding reporting they did on Russia’s role in the 2016 election.
According to the outlet, the DOJ sent three separate letters dated May 3 and addressed to three former Post journalists to inform them they were “hereby notified that pursuant to legal process the United States Department of Justice received toll records associated with the following telephone numbers for the period from April 15, 2017 to July 31, 2017.”
The letters, which listed work, home, or cellphone numbers, also stated that prosecutors had gotten a court order to obtain records for the reporters’ work email accounts, but that they did not ultimately not obtain those records.
The phone records, the outlet said, “included the numbers of all the calls made to and from the targeted phone over the specified time period, and how long each call lasted, but do not include what was said in those phone calls.”
“Investigators often hope such records will provide clues about possible sources the reporters were in contact with before a particular story published,” it added.
The Post reported that the letters do not say why the DOJ was seizing the phone records. However, it did note that toward the end of the time period outlined, the three reporters had written a story about classified U.S. intelligence intercepts that indicated then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions had discussed the Trump campaign with Russia’s ambassador to the U.S. when he was a sitting senator in 2016.
The alleged move is significant because it is rare for the DOJ to use subpoenas in order to obtain records of reporters in leak investigations. In fact, the last high-profile seizure of communication records was part of an investigation into a source cited in 2017 reporting that was also about the investigation into Russian election interference.
Also very notably, these subpoenas need to be approved directly by the attorney general. A spokesperson for the DOJ told The Post that the records had been requested in 2020, meaning it would have likely taken place under Attorney General William Barr, who stepped down on Dec. 23.
The allegations immediately drew criticism from First Amendment advocates and journalists, who have long opposed the practice of obtaining these kinds of records, and argued that attempts to identify sources of leaks hurt critical news gathering and reporting.
“We are deeply troubled by this use of government power to seek access to the communications of journalists,” said Cameron Barr, the current acting executive editor of The Post. “The Department of Justice should immediately make clear its reasons for this intrusion into the activities of reporters doing their jobs, an activity protected under the First Amendment.”
Many other journalists also demanded that the Biden administration ensure such practices are not replicated, noting the escalated efforts to subpoena reporters records under both the Trump and Obama administrations.
However, a DOJ spokesperson defended the previous administration’s decision to subpoena The Post reporters in a statement to the outlet.
“While rare, the Department follows the established procedures within its media guidelines policy when seeking legal process to obtain telephone toll records and non-content email records from media members as part of a criminal investigation into unauthorized disclosure of classified information,” the spokesperson said.
“The targets of these investigations are not the news media recipients but rather those with access to the national defense information who provided it to the media and thus failed to protect it as lawfully required.”
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (Variety) (CNN)
Rep. Schiff Urges DOJ to Investigate Trump for Election Crimes: “There’s Enough Evidence”
“When the Justice Department finds evidence of criminal potential criminal wrongdoing, they need to investigate,” the congressman said.
Schiff Says DOJ Should Launch Inquiry
Rep. Adam Schiff (R-Ca.) told Rogue Rocket that he believes there is “certainly […] enough evidence for the Justice Department to open an investigation” into possible election crimes committed by former President Donald Trump.
Schiff, who took the lead in questioning witnesses testifying before the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection on Tuesday, said that it will be up to the DOJ to determine whether “they have proof beyond a reasonable doubt” of criminal activity, but added that an investigation must first be launched.
“Donald Trump should be treated like any other citizen,” the congressman said, noting that a federal judge in California has already ruled that Trump and his allies “likely” engaged in multiple federal criminal acts. “When the Justice Department finds evidence of criminal potential criminal wrongdoing, they need to investigate.”
“One of the concerns I have is it’s a year and a half since these events. And while […] there’s an investigation going on in Fulton County by the district attorney, I don’t see a federal grand jury convened in Atlanta looking into this, and I think it’s fair to ask why,” Schiff continued, referencing the ongoing inquiry into Trump’s attempts to overturn the election in Georgia.
“Normally, the Justice Department doesn’t wait for Congress to go first. They pursue evidence and they have the subpoena power. They’re often much more agile than the Congress. And I think it’s important that it not just be the lower-level people who broke into the Capitol that day and committed those acts of violence who are under the microscope,” he continued. “I think anyone who engaged in criminal activity trying to overturn the election where there’s evidence that they may have engaged in criminal acts should be investigated.”
Schiff Takes Aim at DOJ’s Handling of Committee Subpoenas
Schiff also expressed frustration with how the DOJ has handled referrals the committee has made for former Trump officials who have refused to comply with subpoenas to testify before the panel.
“We have referred four people for criminal prosecution who have obstructed our investigation. The Justice Department has only moved forward with two of them,” he stated. “That’s not as powerful an incentive as we would like. The law requires the Justice Department to present these cases to the grand jury when we refer them, and by only referring half of them, it sends a very mixed message about whether congressional subpoenas need to be complied with.”
As far as why the congressman thought the DOJ has chosen to operate in this manner in regards to the Jan. 6 panel’s investigation, he said he believes “the leadership of the department is being very cautious.”
“I think that they want to make sure that the department avoids controversy if possible, doesn’t do anything that could even be perceived as being political,” Schiff continued. “And while I appreciate that sentiment […] at the same time, the rule of law has to be applied equally to everyone. If you’re so averse, […] it means that you’re giving effectively a pass or immunity to people who may have broken the law. That, too, is a political decision, and I think it’s the wrong decision.”
On the Note of Democracy
Schiff emphasized the importance of the American people working together to protect democracy in the fallout of the insurrection.
“I really think it’s going to require a national movement of people to step up to preserve our democracy. This is not something that I think Congress can do alone. We’re going to try to protect those institutions, but Republicans are fighting this tooth and nail,” he asserted. “It’s difficult to get through a Senate where Mitch McConnell can filibuster things.”
“We don’t have the luxury of despair when it comes to what we’re seeing around us. We have the obligation to do what generations did before us, and that is defend our democracy,” the congressman continued. “We had to go to war in World War II to defend our democracy from the threat of fascism. You know, we’re not called upon to make those kinds of sacrifices. We see the bravery of people in Ukraine putting their lives on the line to defend their country, their sovereignty, their democracy. Thank God we’re not asked to do that.”
“So what we have to do is, by comparison, so much easier. But it does require us to step up, to be involved, to rally around local elections officials who are doing their jobs, who are facing death threats, and to protect them and to push back against efforts around the country to pass laws to make it easier for big liars to overturn future elections.”
“We are not passengers in all of this, unable to affect the course of our country. We can, you know, grab the rudder and steer this country in the direction that we want.”
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (The Washington Post) (CNN)
Senate Passes Bill to Help Veterans Suffering From Burn Pit Exposure
For Biden, who believes his son Beau may have died from brain cancer caused by burn pits, the issue is personal.
Veterans to Get Better Healthcare
The Senate voted 84-14 Thursday to pass a bill that would widely expand healthcare resources and benefits to veterans who were exposed to burn pits while deployed overseas.
Until about 2010, the Defense Department used burn pits to dispose of trash from military bases in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other locations, dumping things like plastics, rubber, chemical mixtures, and medical waste into pits and burning them with jet fuel.
Numerous studies and reports have demonstrated a link between exposure to the toxic fumes emitted by the pits and health problems such as respiratory ailments and rare cancers. The DoD has estimated that nearly 3.5 million veterans may have inhaled enough smoke to suffer from related health problems.
For years, the Department of Veterans Affairs resisted calls to recognize the link between exposure and illness, arguing it had not been scientifically proven and depriving many veterans of disability benefits and medical reimbursements.
Over the past year, however, the VA relented, awarding presumptive benefit status to veterans exposed to burn pits, but it only applied to those who were diagnosed with asthma, rhinitis, and sinusitis within 10 years of their service.
The latest bill would add 23 conditions to the list of what the VA covers, including hypertension. It also calls for investments in VA health care facilities, claims processing, and the VA workforce, while strengthening federal research on toxic exposure.
The bill will travel to the House of Representatives next, where Speaker Nancy Pelosi has pledged to push it through quickly. Then it will arrive at the White House for final approval.
An Emotional Cause for Many
Ahead of a House vote on an earlier version of the bill in March, comedian John Stewart publically slammed Congress for taking so long to act.
“They’re all going to say the same thing. ‘We want to do it. We want to support the veterans. But we want to do it the right way. We want to be responsible,’” he said. “You know what would have been nice? If they had been responsible 20 years ago and hadn’t spent trillions of dollars on overseas adventures.”
“They could have been responsible in the seventies when they banned this kind of thing in the United States,” he continued. “You want to do it here? Let’s dig a giant fucking pit, 10 acres long, and burn everything in Washington with jet fuel. And then let me know how long they want to wait before they think it’s going to cause some health problems.”
For President Biden, the issue is personal. He has said he believes burn pits may have caused the brain cancer that killed his son Beau in 2015.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer applauded the fact the long-awaited benefits could soon arrive for those impacted.
“The callousness of forcing veterans who got sick as they were fighting for us because of exposure to these toxins to have to fight for years in the VA to get the benefits they deserved — Well, that will soon be over. Praise God,” he said during a speech on Thursday.
A 2020 member survey by Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America found that 86% of respondents were exposed to burn pits or other toxins.
Although burn pits have largely been scaled down, the DoD has not officially banned them, and at least nine were still in operation in April 2019.
See what others are saying: (CNN) (Military Times) (Politico)
Key Takeaways from the Second Jan. 6 Committee Hearing
The second hearing focused primarily on showcasing how Trump ignored top advisors who told him his election fraud claims were false and warned him against declaring victory on election night.
Advisors Told Trump His Fraud Claims Were Wrong
The House committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection held its second public hearing Monday, during which members laid out evidence to support their case that former President Donald Trump knew his election fraud claims were false but still pushed them away.
“We will tell the story of how Donald Trump lost an election and knew he lost an election and, as a result of his loss, decided to wage an attack on our democracy — an attack on the American people by trying to rob you of your voice in our democracy,” Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-Ms.) said in his opening statement.
“And in doing so, lit the fuse that led to horrific violence on Jan. 6, when a mob of his supporters stormed the Capitol, sent by Donald Trump to stop the transfer of power.”
Drawing from live witness testimonies and taped depositions, the committee showed how top officials and advisors close to the president repeatedly told him that his election fraud claims were false and that he had lost the race. Despite this, he declared victory on election night long before all the votes were counted, then continued his efforts to push the Big Lie and overturn his defeat even as a growing number of people provided more and more evidence to the contrary.
Some of the strongest moments of testimony were from former Attorney General Bill Barr, who at various times described Trump’s election fraud claims as “bogus and silly,” “idiotic,” “stupid,” “complete nonsense,” “crazy stuff,” and “bullshit.”
The former Justice Department leader also outlined multiple instances where he said he had told the then-president that alleged fraud the DOJ had looked into turned out to be without merit — including some examples that Trump had publicly touted.
That was also echoed by former Deputy Attorney General Richard Donoghue, who listed a number of fraud claims in detail and said he too informed Trump that there was no evidence to support them.
“I tried to, again, put this in perspective and to try to put it in very clear terms to the president,” he told the panel. “And I said something to the effect of, ‘Sir, we’ve done dozens of investigations, hundreds of interviews. The major allegations are not supported by the evidence developed. We’ve looked in Georgia, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Nevada. We’re doing our job. Much of the info you’re getting is false.’”
Both Barr and Donoghue said that Trump seemed to have little interest in listening to the evidence.
“I was somewhat demoralized because I thought, ‘Boy, if he really believes this stuff, he has … become detached from reality,’” Barr said in one now-viral clip. “On the other hand, you know, when I went into this and would, you know, tell them how crazy some of these allegations were, there was never an indication of interest in what the actual facts were.”
Trump Ignored Aides Who Told Him Not to Declare Victory
The panel also played footage of top officials saying they had advised Trump against declaring victory on election night, including his campaign manager, Bill Stepien, and another top campaign aide, Jason Miller.
Stepien and Miller said they had explained to Trump that votes were still being counted, including many Democrat votes that would come in later because more Democrats had cast ballots by mail. But Trump ignored them, and instead opted to listen to his personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, who Miller told the panel was “definitely intoxicated” on the consequential night.
Even Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, told the committee that he had shared his reservations about Giuliani with the president. When asked what he told Trump about his concerns over Giuliani, Kushner responded: “Basically, ‘not the approach I would take if I was you.’”
In regards to Giuliani, the committee also emphasized that there were two groups of people who surrounded Trump following the election: “Team Normal” and “Rudy’s Team.”
“Team Normal” was being led by Stepien and composed of people who tried to dissuade Trump of his fraud claims, while “Rudy’s Team” was made up of Giuliani and others who encouraged Trump to spread the Bog Lie, like lawyer Sidney Powell.
Possible Fundraising Fraud
The Jan. 6 committee has previously floated multiple laws the former president may have violated through his actions leading up to the insurrection, including obstruction of an official proceeding and witness tampering.
On Monday, the members appeared to outline a new possible crime: fundraising fraud.
In a video presentation that concluded the day, the representatives illustrated how Trump and his allies used the “Big Lie” as a “big rip-off” by convincing supporters to donate hundreds of millions of dollars to what they called his “Official Election Defense Fund,” which they had said would be used for the legal efforts to overturn the results of the election.
But a senior investigator for the committee said that they had found that the fund never existed. Instead, most of the $250 million in donations went to Trump’s Save America PAC. Some of it was also given to PACs run by Trump advisors and the former president’s own hotels, but very little was actually spent on legal battles.
The Jan. 6 committee does not have the power to bring criminal charges, though they can refer them to the DOJ. When asked by reporters on Monday if the committee would make any criminal referrals, Thompson replied, “No, that’s not our job. Our job is to look at the facts and circumstances around January 6, what caused it, and make recommendations after that.”
That remark, however, was later contradicted by the committee’s vice-chair, Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wy.).
“The January 6th Select Committee has not issued a conclusion regarding potential criminal referrals,” she wrote on Twitter. “We will announce a decision on that at an appropriate time.”
A spokesperson for the committee also appeared to back up Cheney’s remarks in a statement to CNN.
“Right now, the committee is focused on presenting our findings to the American people in our hearings and in our report,” the spokesperson said. “Our investigation is ongoing and we will continue to gather all relevant information as we present facts, offer recommendations and, if warranted, make criminal referrals.”
The panel’s third public hearing was initially set to be held Wednesday, but a spokesperson announced that it will be postponed until an undisclosed time next week. The committee did not provide reasoning for the move, but sources have cited a scheduling conflict.
Cheney has said that the hearings in days ahead will expand to Trump’s broader efforts to plan for Jan. 6, including his plan to “corrupt” the DOJ, as well as his efforts “to pressure the vice president, state legislatures, state officials and others to overturn the election.”