Thanks to reporters from the New York Times and other media, we learned that between 2018 and a few days before the handover of power, Donald Trump officials in the Department of Justice (DOJ) requested and seized the records of 73 phone numbers and 36 email addresses of political rivals – real and imaginary – of the former president.
They focused only on media critical of Trump such as the Times itself, the Washington Post and CNN, and on legislators such as Adam Schiff and Eric Swalwell, who were also on the list of «enemies» of the former president, as well as members of their staff and even their families.
Additionally and separately, they ordered the seizure of the records of Trump’s own White House attorney, Don McGahn, shortly after he rejected Trump’s request to fire then-special counsel Robert Mueller.
Trump repeatedly demanded that his political opponents be imprisoned during his tenure. He apparently tried to move from words to deeds.
The information confirms that the DOJ, headed then by Attorney General Jeff Sessions and later by William Barr, ceased to be an independent institution to become a weapon in the service of a deeply undemocratic president.
While it is common for the Justice Department to try to find out who shared classified information with the media, what the DOJ has done in this case is different.
They secretly collected records from the press and from Democratic lawmakers. They ordered companies like Apple and Microsoft not to inform spy victims that they were following them. They re-issued those annual orders three times. They prevented media executives and lawyers from notifying their own newsrooms. And as this Pandora Box is just opening, there may be further surprises and scandals.
Additionally, already in the last days of the previous administration and after losing in the elections, they demanded email records from Google that belonged to the Times reporters.
The only precedent to all these are the actions of Richard Nixon that led to his investigation and resignation in August 1974. And what Nixon did may pale compared to what may have been ordered by Trump.
These DOJ orders came mandatorily from above. By ordering or allowing these actions, both former secretaries of Justice caused perhaps a damage to the department that may be irreparable. And chaotic as the previous government may have been, their protests that they were not aware of the situation are not credible.
However, the knowledge of the case, the transmission of the orders, the organization of the follow-up, the writing of the gag orders, the decoding of the messages, their analysis, were in charge of career and lesser ranked officials.
It cannot be that these characters continue in their functions and that they are not identified, as by their actions they lost all credibility as civil servants in the service of the nation.
And the government reaction so far is poor. President Biden has not officially spoken on the matter yet.
We are notified that Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz has launched an investigation. Fine, but it can take months.
Congressional committees should immediately initiate an open investigation and call those responsible to publicly testify.
Very worrying questions are arising regarding the freedom of expression and of the press in our country. What else has happened so far that is still hidden from the eyes of Congress and the public? Who else were, or are the victims? And why did the current attorney general, Merrick Garland, wait until the New York Times report?
If there is no policy change and it will all come down to talks and a memo, what guarantees us that this administration, or a future one, will use the same tactics against opponents and the media?
These, said Senator Chuck Schumer, are the fingerprints of a dictatorship, not a democracy.