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Democrats seeks answers about Trump-era DOJ leak hunt targeting lawmakers

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WASHINGTON — The Department of Justice’s internal watchdog has been asked to investigate a Trump-era seizure of communication records from some Democratic lawmakers, according to an official in the agency.

It could join a burgeoning effort in Congress to unearth more details about what happened in 2017 when the DOJ under former President Donald Trump asked Apple to turn over communication metadata for at least two Democratic House members, their staff and family members. The investigation became public on Thursday in a report by The New York Times.

Separately on Friday, Democrats Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin threatened to subpoena former Attorneys Generals William Barr and Jeff Sessions to testify before Congress about the investigations.

Democrats on the House Intelligence have grown frustrated since learning last month their data was targeted and have been unable to get more information from the Department of Justice, according to a House official.

A House Intelligence Committee official said Friday that the panel’s Chairman Rep. Adam Schiff, who was among those targeted, has been unable to obtain information about the subpoena from Biden administration officials. For instance, the committee specifically asked what metadata was included in the subpoenas and the Justice Department has not provided answers, the official said.

“We have repeatedly posed basic and readily answerable questions to the Department for more than a month, but have received virtually no information beyond a confirmation that the investigation is closed,” the aide said in a statement. “The Department’s refusal to provide information is unacceptable, and they will need to provide a full accounting of this and other instances in which law enforcement was weaponized against Donald Trump’s political opponents.”

The official added that the only notification of the subpoenas came via email from Apple — an email that some who saw it believed might be spam, until they checked further.

The New York Times reported Thursday that under former President Donald Trump, the Justice Department subpoenaed metadata in February 2018 from Apple related to accounts belonging to at least two Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee. Their aides and family members, including a minor, were targeted as well. A source confirmed to NBC News that the lawmakers and staff had been notified by Apple.

At the time the records were sought, the House Intelligence Committee was investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election. The newspaper reported that the records were sought as part of an investigation into leaks of classified information.

Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., a frequent and vocal critic of Trump, was also targeted.

Schumer and Durbin said in a statement that Congress and the Justice Department’s inspector general must investigate these actions by the Trump administration.

Chuck Schumer and Dick Durbin approach the podium to speak to members of the media after a Senate Democratic Policy Luncheon on Jan. 17, 2018 at the Capitol.Alex Wong / Getty Images file

“Former Attorneys General Barr and Sessions and other officials who were involved must testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee under oath. If they refuse, they are subject to being subpoenaed and compelled to testify under oath,” their statement said.

Schumer and Durbin said that the Justice Department must also provide information to the Judiciary Committee about what they called an “gross abuse of power” and “an assault on the separation of powers.”



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Don't need EU! Brexit finance deal DEAD as Frost blasts Brussels demands – UK to thrive

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LORD FROST hinted chances of a Brexit finances deal have evaporated as he addressed a think tank on Thursday night.

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The Biden administration says it will evacuate Afghans who worked with U.S. troops

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WASHINGTON — The Biden administration plans to evacuate at least some of the Afghans who worked with the U.S. military and who face the threat of retribution from the Taliban before the U.S. withdrawal’s official completion date of Sept. 11, senior administration officials said Thursday.

The White House had previously declined to endorse the idea but President Joe Biden gave the green light to evacuation plans on Thursday, telling reporters, “Those who helped us are not going to be left behind.”

The decision follows an internal debate and urgent appeals in recent weeks from lawmakers from both parties, veterans of the war in Afghanistan, the Afghans who risked their lives to support U.S. soldiers, and from diplomats in America’s longest war.

Asked about the fate of Afghans who worked as interpreters or in other jobs, Biden said: “We’ve already begun the process” of helping the Afghan partners.

Asked which country they would be relocated to, the president said he didn’t know and mentioned he would be meeting Afghan President Ashraf Ghani at the White House on Friday.

An unspecified number of Afghans who worked as interpreters for the U.S. government and who applied for a visa will be moved to a third country, where their paperwork will be reviewed, senior administration officials said.

It remained unclear how many Afghans would be evacuated, which third country would accept them and when the operation would begin.

Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby indicated the relocation might involve civilian aircraft and not military planes. An evacuation of 6,600 Iraqi Kurds to Guam in 1996-97 also used chartered, civilian planes.

To help Afghans facing threats from the Taliban due to their work for U.S. forces, Congress created the special immigrant visa program. But the SIV program has been hampered by bureaucratic delays and advocates say Afghan partners are in grave danger from the Taliban while they wait for their applications to be processed.

“Although we have surged resources and sped up SIV processing times significantly, we recognize that some of these interpreters and translators have been in the process, in some cases for years, and are still waiting to receive their visas,” a senior administration official said.

“We have identified a group of SIV applicants who have served as interpreters and translators to be relocated to another location outside of Afghanistan before we complete our military drawdown by September, in order to complete the visa application process,” the official said.

The U.S. withdrawal is likely to be effectively complete next month, according to officials.

State Department Deputy Spokesperson Jalina Porter said the evacuees would come from the 18,000 Afghans already in the Special Immigrant Visa pipeline. She declined to say which countries they would be evacuated to but said the relocation would be done in “full compliance with all applicable laws, as well as in full coordination with Congress.”

The administration is identifying Afghans who worked with the U.S. government to be relocated to a third country to allow the Afghans to “safely complete” the remainder of the visa application process, she said.

The senior administration official left open the possibility that evacuations might have to be expanded. “We are planning for all contingencies, so that we are prepared for all scenarios. Should it become necessary, we will consider additional relocation or evacuation options,” the official said.

Lawmakers, veterans groups and rights organizations welcomed the announcement.

Chris Purdy, project manager of the Veterans for American Ideals program at Human Rights First, said the Biden administration should fly the Afghans to the U.S. territory of Guam, where the governor already has said the Afghans would be welcome.

“This is America’s responsibility, we don’t need to outsource to another country,” he said.

Purdy added that the administration should “release their plan to ensure that we get as many people out as possible.”

Congressional aides from both parties said the White House had informed lawmakers of the decision to proceed with an evacuation and that some officials in the administration favored flying the Afghan partners to Guam.

Visa applicants in Guam would be accorded more rights than in a third country, and it would be more difficult to deport them back to Afghanistan from U.S. territory, rights advocates said.

Advocates have accused the Biden administration of moving far too slowly to protect the tens of thousands of Afghans whose lives are in mortal danger because of their association with the U.S. and Western organizations.

Veterans and refugee organizations said they have been inundated with pleas for help from former interpreters.

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Pelosi announces select committee to investigate Jan. 6 Capitol riot

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Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced Thursday that the House will establish a select committee to investigate the Jan. 6 Capitol riot.

“This morning, with great solemnity and sadness, I am announcing the House will be establishing a select committee on the January 6th insurrection,” Pelosi said at a news conference.

Last month, Senate Republicans blocked House-passed legislation to establish a bipartisan commission to probe the attack. That legislation failed a key procedural hurdle after 54 senators voted in favor of it, short of the needed 60 votes.

That bill passed the House last month by a 252-175 vote, with 35 Republicans voting in favor of it. It was the product of negotiations between House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., and Rep. John Katko, R-N.Y., the ranking member of the committee.

While Democrats have long pushed for an investigation akin to the 9/11 commission, many Republicans have argued it would become an overly political process that could damage them in next year’s elections without information that goes beyond what inquiries by federal law enforcement will uncover.

On Thursday, Pelosi, D-Calif., said there is no timeline for the committee to release findings and she is not yet announcing its composition or leadership.

“January 6th was one of the darkest days in our nation’s history,” Pelosi said. “It is imperative that we establish the truth of that day and ensure an attack of that kind cannot happen, and that we root out the causes of it all. The select committee will investigate and report on the facts and the causes of the attack” and report recommendations.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., signaled this month that he would seek to “force the Senate to vote” again on the commission.

Pelosi said Thursday she sees the establishment of this committee “as complementary, not instead of” the bipartisan commission passed in the House, adding she is hopeful that that still comes to pass.

“The select committee is about our democracy, and about ensuring that the Capitol dome remains a symbol of freedom, about preserving America’s role as an emblem of resilience, determination and hope,” Pelosi said. “That is our purpose. That is what the select committee will be about, and that is about seeking and finding the truth.”

“It is clear that the Republicans are afraid of the truth,” she added.

Olivia Olander contributed.

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