House Judiciary asks DOJ to disclose remaining gag orders

House Judiciary asks DOJ to disclose remaining gag orders
© Greg Nash

The House Judiciary Committee is asking the Department of Justice (DOJ) to disclose any remaining gag orders initially put in place by the Trump administration as it seized recordings during leak investigations.

The request — the first since the committee formally kicked off its investigation Friday — comes after the DOJ sought gag orders to prevent communications companies from alerting Democratic lawmakers, reporters from three news outlets and even former White House counsel Don McGahn that their records had been subpoenaed.

“We must ask why the Department repeatedly pursued gag orders—preventing companies from notifying their users of the sweeping information requests by federal law enforcement—despite realizing early in the effort that no criminal charges would result from these investigations,” the committee’s Democrats wrote in a letter to Attorney General Merrick GarlandMerrick GarlandHas Trump beaten the system? Biden administration moves to withdraw death penalty requests in seven cases Federal gun trafficking strike forces launched in five cities MORE.

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The letter notes that the gag orders were “renewed multiple times, and in one instance renewed over the course of three years. To date, the Committee is aware of no indictments resulting from these investigations, and prosecutors reportedly considered closing the investigations due to lack of evidence.”

The letter asks the DOJ to turn over a number of documents and communications tied to the leak investigations, including those tied to the gag orders, as well as identifying any cases “currently subject to a gag order.”

DOJ’s media policy typically requires the department to notify reporters before their records are sought, though exceptions can be made by the attorney general.

But in the case of a subpoena for records of reporters from The New York Times, the DOJ fought to block email provider Google from alerting the Times’s lawyer. Even into March, the department under Biden sought to bar the lawyer from sharing news of the court battle beyond a few top executives.

A similar practice was underway in a case for the records of a reporter from CNN, with the outlet’s lawyer only able to disclose the matter when a gag order placed on him expired in June.

DOJ’s inspector general is currently investigating the matter, while the House’s work is running in parallel with an investigation by the Senate Judiciary Committee.