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Trump Justice Department Subpoenaed Apple For Info On Former White House Counsel

Former White House counsel Donald McGahn appears at a Senate Judiciary Committee in September 2018 on Capitol Hill.
The Washington Post via Getty Images
Former White House counsel Donald McGahn appears at a Senate Judiciary Committee in September 2018 on Capitol Hill.

The Justice Department secretly subpoenaed Apple in February 2018 for account information of then-White House Counsel Don McGahn, as well as his wife, and secured a gag order barring the company from telling them about it, according to a person familiar with the matter.

It is unclear what the Justice Department was investigating or whether prosecutors actually obtained any of McGahn's account information, the individual said on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter.

Apple informed the McGahns of the subpoena last month after the gag order expired. The company did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The Justice Department declined to comment.

It is highly unusual for the Justice Department to subpoena the records of a sitting White House counsel. The news of the subpoena, which was first reported by the New York Times, comes days after it emerged that the Trump-era Justice Department had also subpoenaed Apple for communications metadata of at least two Democratic members of the House Intelligence Committee, as well as current and former staff and family members as part of a leak investigation.

Those seizures are now under review by the Justice Department's inspector general. The two lawmakers who had their data seized were Reps. Adam Schiff, the committee's top Democrat, and Eric Swalwell.

Both Schiff and Swalwell were outspoken critics of former President Donald Trump, and both served as impeachment managers against the former president during his two impeachment trials in the Senate. Schiff presided as a manager during Trump's first impeachment in 2020; Swalwell during the second impeachment trial earlier this year.

McGahn left the White House in late 2018, but during his time in the counsel's office he was a central figure in Trump's orbit and in the investigation by former special counsel Robert Mueller into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

While the Mueller investigation concluded in 2019, McGahn was called earlier this month to testify before the Democratic-led House Judiciary Committee following a protracted two-year legal battle. Testimony from that appearance was made public last week, and revealed the degree to which McGahn felt he was being pressured toward wrongdoing by Trump.

McGahn told the committee he was made particularly uneasy by Trump's repeated requests that he facilitate the dismissal of Mueller, who had been tasked with investigating possible ties between Trump's 2016 campaign and Russia.

Top Democrats in Congress are now calling on former Attorneys General William Barr and Jeff Sessions to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee about the subpoenas — calls that are all but certain to grow louder following the revelations about McGahn.

"The revelation that the Trump Justice Department secretly subpoenaed metadata of House Intelligence Committee Members and staff and their families, including a minor, is shocking," said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin, D-Ill., in a statement on Friday. "This is a gross abuse of power and an assault on the separation of powers."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Ryan Lucas covers the Justice Department for NPR.
Emine Yücel