WASHINGTON - House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler announced a formal investigation into the Department of Justice’s attempt to obtain records of lawmakers, journalists and other groups of people during the Trump administration in an effort to find the sources of leaked information to the public.
"Recent reports suggest that, during the Trump Administration, the Department of Justice used criminal investigations as a pretext to spy on President Trump’s perceived political enemies," Nadler said in a statement Monday.
Nadler said the issue raises serious constitutional concerns over the separation of powers, saying the investigation needs to uncover the full extent of the DOJ’s attempt and hold the responsible people accountable for their actions.
"Congress must make it extraordinarily difficult, if not impossible, for the Department to spy on the Congress or the news media," the statement continued. "We should make it hard for prosecutors to hide behind secret gag orders for years at a time. We cannot rely on the Department alone to make these changes."
The Trump administration Justice Department secretly obtained the 2017 phone records of a CNN correspondent, the network said last month in revealing the existence of another apparent leak investigation aimed at identifying a journalist’s sources.
The revelation came two weeks after The Washington Post disclosed that the Justice Department had last year seized phone records belonging to three of its journalists who covered the Russia investigation.
The Justice Department confirmed that the records were formally sought last year, though it did not reveal anything else about the investigation and what story might pertain to.
President Joe Biden then said he won’t allow the Department of Justice to seize journalists’ phone records and emails, calling the practice "wrong" in a significant departure from his predecessors.
In June, the DOJ said that it no longer will secretly obtain reporters’ records during leak investigations.
Democratic and Republican administrations alike have used subpoenas and court orders to obtain journalists’ records in an effort to identify sources who have revealed classified information.
Bruce D. Brown, executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, said he welcomed the Justice Department’s policy change but that serious unanswered questions remain about what happened in each of these cases.
"To ensure it does not happen again, we look forward to pursuing additional policy reforms with the Biden administration to further safeguard these essential rights," Brown said in a statement.
The Justice Department will also tighten its rules around obtaining records from members of Congress, Attorney General Merrick Garland said Monday, amid revelations the department under former President Donald Trump had secretly seized records from Democrats and members of the media.
"Consistent with our commitment to the rule of law," Garland said in a statement, "we must ensure that full weight is accorded to separation-of-powers concerns moving forward."
The Associated Press contributed to this report. This story was reported from Los Angeles.