WASHINGTON – The Justice Department summoned Apple in February 2018 for information about an account that was then used by then-President Donald J. Trump’s White House attorney, Donald F. McGahn II, and kept the company from telling him about it, according to two people. informed about the matter.
Apple told Mr McGahn about the summons last month, said one of the people who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the matter. Mr McGahn’s wife also received a similar notice from Apple, the person said.
It is unclear what FBI agents were investigating, whether Mr. McGahn was his special focus, or whether he had fallen into a larger trap because he communicated with someone who was under investigation. As the top counsel for the 2016 Trump campaign and then White House counsel, Mr McGahn was in contact with many people who may have attracted attention as part of the Russia investigation or a subsequent leak investigation.
Still, the disclosure that agents had collected data on a current White House attorney, which they kept secret for years, is extraordinary.
And it comes amid a political backlash following revelations that the Trump administration secretly confiscated personal journalists’ data and Democrats in Congress From phone and tech companies during the investigation of leaks.
Democratic leaders on Capitol Hill on Sunday pressure on the justice department And to provide former officers with a full account of the events, he called on the head of the Justice Department’s National Security Division, John C. Demers, and former deputy attorney general, Rod J. Rosenstein to testify before Congress along with former Attorney Generals Jeff Sessions and William P. Barr.
A Justice Department spokesman declined to comment, as did Mr. McGahn’s lawyer. An Apple representative did not respond to a request for comment.
Apple told Mr McGahn it had complied with the summons at the time, but declined to tell him what it had provided to the government, according to a person briefed on the matter. under which Justice Department Policy, gag orders for subpoenas can be renewed for up to one year at a time, suggesting that prosecutors had gone to court several times to prevent Apple from notifying McGahns earlier.
In investigations, agents sometimes compile a large list of phone numbers and email addresses that a subject was in contact with, and use summons to communications companies for any account information such as names, computer addresses and credit card numbers. I want to identify all those people. with them.
According to a person briefed on the matter, Apple told McGahns that it had received the summons on February 23, 2018.
Under federal law, prosecutors are typically required to obtain permission from a federal judge to force a company like Apple to delay notifying people that their personal information has been summoned, Paul M. Rosen, a former federal prosecutor and an accomplice of Crowell. Moring.
“There’s a lot here that we don’t know, including the facts and circumstances surrounding the delay request and what was presented to the judge,” Mr Rosen said. But, he said, prosecutors are generally required to prove that either notifying the person would “endanger one’s safety, risk destroying evidence or intimidating witnesses, or would seriously jeopardize an investigation.” would put him in danger.”
Another person familiar with the matter said the summons was issued by a grand jury in the Eastern District of Virginia.
It is not clear why prosecutors obtained the summons. But around that time several notable developments were unfolding.
The federal court in the Eastern District of Virginia was the focus of a portion of the Russia investigation led by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III that focused on Paul Manafort, the former chairman of the 2016 Trump presidential campaign.
Because Mr McGahn was the top lawyer for the Trump campaign in 2016, it is possible that at some point he may have been in contact with someone whose account the Mueller team was investigating in early 2018.
In a special way, Mr. Manafort faces fresh charges of fraud Sealed a day before summons. the upcoming events manifest That Mr. Mueller’s investigators were closely scrutinizing some of his communication accounts in the coming days.
This was also around the time Mr McGahn was involved in another case related to the Russia investigation, including a leak.
At the end of January 2018, The New York Times reported, based on confidential sourcing, that Mr Trump ordered McGahn last June that the Justice Department remove Mr Mueller, but Mr McGahn refused to do so and threatened to resign. The Washington Post confirmed that account shortly after in a follow-up article.
Mueller Report – and Mr. McGahn in private testimony In front of the House Judiciary Committee this month – after the Times article described Trump’s anger at Mr McGahn and how he tried to persuade Mr McGahn to make a statement that was falsely denied. Mr Trump told aides that Mr McGahn was a “liar” and a “leaker”, according to former Trump administration officials. In his testimony, Mr McGann said he was a source for The Post’s follow-up to clarify a specifics – which he made aware of his intention to resign – but that he was not the source of the original Times article. .
There are reasons to suspect that Mr. McGahn was the target of any Justice Department leak investigation resulting from that episode, however. Information about Mr. Trump’s orders to sack Mr. Mueller, for example, would not appear to be such a classified national-security secret that disclosing it could be a crime.
Yet another largely concurrent incident was the Justice Department’s investigation into the unauthorized disclosure of information about the Russia investigation. As part of that investigation, prosecutors sent a summons to Apple on February 6, 2018 for data on staff members of Congress, their families, and at least two members of Congress. Apple recently notified the target people because it was banned from disclosing the summons at the time.
Among those whose data was seized were two Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee: Representatives Eric Swellwell and Adam B. Schiff, both Calif. Mr Schiff, Mr Trump’s staunch political opponent, is now chairman of the panel. Times first reported Last week on that summons.
Many questions about the events leading up to the summons remain unanswered, including how much Trump authorized him in the Justice Department and whether investigators had guessed or expected that he was going to sweep in data on politically prominent lawmakers. Were. The summons sought data on 109 email addresses and phone numbers.
In that case, the investigation into the leaks focused primarily on Michael Bahar, a staff member of the House Intelligence Committee. People close to Mr Sessions and Mr Rosenstein, the top two Justice Department officials at the time, have said neither was aware that prosecutors had sought data about lawmakers’ accounts for that investigation.
It is not clear whether the agents were following the theory that Mr Bahar himself had leaked or whether he suspected he was speaking to reporters with the approval of lawmakers. Either way, it appears that they were unable to substantiate their suspicion that he was the source of any unauthorized disclosures; The case has been closed, and no charges were brought.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi called on Mr. Barr, Mr. Sessions and Mr. Rosenstein on Sunday to testify about the subpoena before Congress. She said what the Justice Department did under Mr Trump went “even beyond Richard Nixon”, but declined to say whether a congressional committee would compel his testimony.
“Let’s hope they want to respect the rule of law,” she said. “The Justice Department has been rogue under President Trump.”
New York Senator Chuck Schumer, the majority leader, called on anyone potentially involved in the summons, including Mr. Demers, to testify before Congress. “The sins of the Trump administration are still piling up,” he said at a news conference in New York.
“It was nothing short of a gross abuse of power, an attack on the separation of powers,” Mr Schumer warned, adding that if the men did not testify, lawmakers would summon them.
He also called on Democrats to join the voting for congressional subpoenas to compel Senate Republicans to testify.
On CBS, Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine called the allegations “serious,” but only said she was endorsing a Investigation The matter was announced Friday by the Justice Department’s independent inspector general.
Katie Benner, Adam Goldman and luke broadwater Contributed reporting.