Justice official resigning amid uproar over seized Democrats' data
WASHINGTON - The Justice Department’s top national security official is resigning from his position after revelations that the department secretly seized records from Democrats and members of the media.
John Demers will leave his position by the end of next week, a Justice Department official told The Associated Press on Monday. The official could not discuss the matter publicly and spoke to the AP on the condition of anonymity.
The resignation comes amid questions about what Demers knew about the Justice Department’s efforts to secretly seize the phone data from House Democrats and reporters as part of the aggressive investigations into leaks.
Demers, who was sworn in a few weeks after the subpoena for the Democrats' records, is a Trump appointee who has remained in the Biden administration. He is one of the few remaining Trump appointees still in office.
News emerged last week that the Justice Department had secretly subpoenaed Apple for metadata from House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff and another Democratic member of the panel, California Rep. Eric Swalwell, in 2018, as their committee was investigating then-President Donald Trump’s ties to Russia. Schiff at the time was the top Democrat on the panel, which was led by Republicans.
FILE - Assistant Attorney General for the National Security Division John Demers speaks at a news conference at the Department of Justice, on Oct. 19, 2020, in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Andrew Harnik - Pool/Getty Images)
The records of at least 12 people connected to the House intelligence panel were eventually shared with the Justice Department by Apple after the subpoena was issued in 2018. The people included aides, former aides and family members. One was a minor.
The subpoena, issued Feb. 6, 2018, requested information on 73 phone numbers and 36 email addresses, Apple said. It also included a non-disclosure order that prohibited the company from notifying any of the people and was renewed three times, the company said in a statement.
Demers will be replaced by Mark Lesko, the acting U.S. attorney in the Eastern District of New York, the official said.
Demers has been in charge of the department’s national security division since February 2018, being sworn in a few weeks after the subpoena was issued to Apple for the Democrats’ records, and his division has played a role in each of the leak investigations.
President Joe Biden has nominated Matt Olsen, an executive at Uber who has experience in the Justice Department and served as director of the National Counterterrorism Center and as general counsel for the National Security Agency, to be the next assistant attorney general for national security. But Demers has remained in place while Olsen awaits a confirmation hearing in the Senate.
The Justice Department’s inspector general has launched a probe into the matter after a request from Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco. Inspector General Michael Horowitz said he would examine whether the data subpoenaed by the Justice Department and turned over by Apple followed department policy and "whether any such uses, or the investigations, were based upon improper considerations."
In a statement Monday, Attorney General Merrick Garland said that "political or other improper considerations must play no role in any investigative or prosecutorial decisions" and he expects the inspector general to conduct a thorough investigation.
"If at any time as the investigation proceeds action related to the matter in question is warranted, I will not hesitate to move swiftly," Garland said.
"Consistent with our commitment to the rule of law," he said, "we must ensure that full weight is accorded to separation-of-powers concerns moving forward."