It's been a while since we had ourselves a good ol' fashioned "what the hell????" sort of Trumpian scandal — the kind of peek into the chaotic lawlessness and astonishing selfishness that came to define Donald Trump's time in office. So when The New York Times reported on Thursday night that the Trump administration had spied on two Democratic members of the House Intelligence Committee, their employees, and their families — including a child — it was the sort of unwelcome blast from the past reminds us just how truly bonkers Trump's reign was, and how much we still don't know about how bad it actually got.
According to the Times, prosecutors working for former Attorney Generals Jeff Sessions and William Barr collected at least a dozen metadata records from Apple, between 2017 and 2018, all as part of a frantic search by the Trump administration for leakers during the investigation by Special Counsel Robert Mueller into Russian involvement in the 2016 presidential election. Those whose data was collected include then-ranking member, now chairman of the House Intelligence Committee Adam Schiff, and Rep. Eric Swalwell. The Times report also claims congressional aides and family members' data was subpoenaed, including that of at least one family member who was, at the time, a minor.
The subpoenas were all kept secret under a Justice Department gag order until the Biden administration released the information this past month. On Twitter, Schiff responded to the news of his having been targeted by the Trump administration, calling it "yet another example of Trump's corrupt weaponization of justice."
Speaking with CNN's Don Lemon on Thursday night, Swalwell confirmed that his records had been seized. "It's wrong," he said. "This is what they do. They smear, and they try and clear."
"I support Chairman Schiff's call for an inspector general report into not only this conduct, but other conduct that was corrupt by Donald Trump and those who worked for him," Swalwell added.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has also called for official action in response to the report, demanding both Barr and Sessions "testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee under oath" about the alleged spying. "If they refuse," he continued, "they are subject to being subpoenaed and compelled to testify."
The revelation that Trump apparently turned the mechanisms of government against its own officers is a chilling reminder of just how much the previous administration had begun to emulate a police state autocracy, going so far as to secretly spy not only on political opponents, but their families as well. It remains to be seen whether anyone will actually face any real consequences for what is being compared to the Watergate scandal that took down the Nixon administration.
It also remains to be seen whether this is the last of the unexploded bombshells leftover from the Trump administration. I wouldn't count on it.