Posts tagged with "Gag order"

Trump Justice Department secretly subpoenaed records on top Democrats, their families, and staff

June 14, 2021

After a series of damaging leaksto the media about contacts between senior White House functionaries and Russian officials during the early moments of the Trump Administration, the Department of Justice took the extraordinary step of subpoenaing data from Apple on top Democrats, their families, and their staff, in an effort to identify the source of the leaked information, The New York Times was first to report on Thursday night, June 10.

Indeed, the Times reported, at least a dozen people associated with the House Intelligence Committee had their records seized, including then–ranking member of the committee Adam Schiff and committee member Eric Swalwell

According to a report by Slate on Friday, the surveillance reportedly encompassed the subjects’ metadata, whom they were communicating with—not the content of those communications. One of the individuals whose records was subpoenaed was a minor, presumably a family member of one of the targets, because the DOJ suspected officials might be using their children’s computer to leak to avoid detection.

The surveillance was not made known to the targets until last month, due to a gag order on Apple that recently expired.

Other administrations, including the Obama Administration, have aggressively hunted leakers—but, Slate notes, the latest revelations show how far and beyond the Trump administration was willing to go, essentially from the start of the Trump presidency.

The records seized were reportedly from 2017 and early 2018, as Attorney General Jeff Sessions bore the brunt of Trump’s rage about all things Russia. Leaked contacts between Michael Flynn and then–Russian Ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislyak led to Flynn’s ouster and ultimately federal charges.

The leaked information was explosive: It showed the continuation of curious contact between Trump World and Russia; it also revealed that the FBI had used a court-authorized secret wiretap on Kislyak that ensnared the future national security adviser.

“Ultimately, the data and other evidence did not tie the committee to the leaks, and investigators debated whether they had hit a dead end and some even discussed closing the inquiry,” the Times notes. “But William P. Barr revived languishing leak investigations after he became attorney general a year later. … Barr directed prosecutors to continue investigating, contending that the Justice Department’s National Security Division had allowed the cases to languish, according to three people briefed on the cases.” The moves smacked of political targeting to some in the Justice Department.

The secret targeting of sitting members of Congress by the opposite party—particularly, those leading an investigation related to the White House, is an extraordinary step that requires truly extraordinary evidence, Slate says. Adding that,so far reports indicate no evidence was found linking the targets to the actual leaks.

What was found was that the Trump Administration had an ulterior motive: snooping on its political enemies.

These disturbing revelations come on the heels of news that the Trump DOJ carried out similar, secret surveillance of journalists covering the White House for a host of major news organizations—raising serious questions about the appropriateness of the Trump administration’s use of its surveillance powers in what Slate characterized as “a broad and dangerous overreach.”

Research contact: @Slate

Judge orders Michael Cohen to be released from prison, returned to home confinement

July 24, 2020

A federal judge on Thursday ordered that President Donald Trump’s former personal attorney and “fixer,  Michael Cohen be returned to home confinement, after the he was sent back to prison earlier this month over a dispute with federal corrections officials, The Hill reports.

Judge Alvin Hellerstein of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, accused the federal Bureau of Prisons (BOP) of trying to violate Cohen’s First Amendment rights by imposing a gag order as a condition of his home confinement.

“I make the finding that the purpose of transferring Mr. Cohen from furlough and home confinement to jail as retaliatory, and it’s retaliatory because of his desire to exercise his First Amendment rights to publish the book and to discuss anything about the book or anything else he wants on social media” and elsewhere, Hellerstein said during a court hearing on July 23.

Cohen had been writing a book about his time working for Trump and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a lawsuit this week alleging that he was sent back to prison in retaliation for the tell-all. Cohen is serving a three-year sentence for various charges, including fraud and lying to Congress.

“This order is a victory for the First Amendment,” Cohen’s attorney Danya Perry said in a statement after the hearing. “The First Amendment does not allow the government to block Cohen from publishing a book critical of the president as a condition of his release to home confinement. This principle transcends politics. We are gratified that the rule of law prevails.”

Cohen had been released to home confinement in May amid concerns about the coronavirus pandemic’s effects on the prison population, The Hill said..

Earlier this month, Cohen and his attorney met with corrections officials to finalize the terms of the home confinement agreement and objected to a number of the conditions, including a prohibition against speaking with the media or publishing any sort of writing.

According to the report by The Hill, Justice Department officials detained Cohen during the meeting over his objections and sent him back to prison.

The DOJ denied that the gag order was aimed at stopping Cohen from proceeding with his book or that his being returned to prison was retaliation over the planned publication.

During Thursday’s hearing, Hellerstein, who was appointed to the court by former President Clinton, appeared disturbed by the manner in which BOP officials decided to reincarcerate Cohen and the gag order that they tried to impose upon him.

“I’ve never seen such a clause,” Hellerstein said. “In 21 years of being a judge and sentencing people and looking at the conditions of supervised release, I’ve never seen such a clause.”

A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, which defended the BOP’s move in court, did not immediately respond when asked for comment.

Research contact: @thehill