House

GOP's Stefanik defends Trump DOJ secret subpoenas

House GOP Conference Chair Elise Stefanik (N.Y.) on Tuesday defended the Justice Department's efforts to secretly seize phone, email and other records from a pair of House Democratic lawmakers, their aides and reporters as officials aggressively pursued leak investigations during the Trump era.

Stefanik serves on the House Intelligence Committee, alongside two California Democrats and vocal critics of former President Trump, Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff and Rep. Eric Swalwell, who had their records subpoenaed without their knowledge.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) also subpoenaed the records of their staff and family members, including one minor, as well as Trump's own White House counsel.

Stefanik acknowledged that the DOJ's inspector general is investigating whether Trump administration officials abused their power by seeking the records of those in the legislative branch. The House and Senate Judiciary committees also have launched investigations into the matter. 

But Stefanik, a Trump loyalist who recently replaced Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) in the House GOP leadership, alleged that Schiff and others on the Intelligence Committee had inappropriately leaked information to the press in the past.   

"Having served on the House Intelligence Committee, we've seen illegal leaks from our colleagues on the House Intelligence Committee, and there have been numerous referrals to the Department of Justice," Stefanik said at a news conference Tuesday. "So I think it's important that the Department of Justice determine if there were any illegal leaks, leaks by members of Congress, or their staff members."

"Let's also be perfectly clear here that Adam Schiff, as chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, released information regarding the ranking member, Devin Nunes, his phone calls, as well as [to] reporters," she added. "That is unethical. Frankly, I believe that's illegal."

That was a reference to Schiff's sweeping December 2019 report on Trump's first impeachment. The report detailed that Nunes, a California Republican, had multiple communications with key figures in the impeachment inquiry, including Rudy Giuliani, Trump's personal lawyer, as well as with Giuliani's Soviet-born associate Lev Parnas, who was indicted on campaign finance charges.

At the time, Nunes and other Republicans were furious with Schiff for including a lawmaker's metadata in a public report, calling it a "smear." Schiff, at the time, made clear the Intelligence Committee had not subpoenaed Nunes's records, suggesting his phone number appeared in the records of others targeted in the impeachment probe.  

"Chairman Schiff never issued subpoenas for phone records for Members, despite many false assertions otherwise. As a member of our committee, Rep. Stefanik should know better," Schiff spokeswoman Lauren French said in an email. "We should all focus on getting answers and making sure the DOJ is never weaponized for political purposes ever again, not spreading falsehoods like these to defend President Trump and the destructive actions of his administration."

But it's unlikely Schiff will be able to persuade Stefanik, who tangled with the Intelligence chairman throughout Trump's first impeachment proceedings.

"I certainly think the inspector general is going to look into this whether there was any overreach by the Department of Justice," Stefanik said of the new DOJ revelations.

"But make no mistake, there have been illegal leaks from members of Congress. That's a national security risk. That is a federal crime. It's very serious and we want to make sure that the Department of Justice is able to pursue any type of criminal illegal leaks."

Updated at 2:08 p.m.

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