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US attorney general vows to take action over secret surveillance

US Attorney General Merrick Garland pledged Monday to take action against any officials who may have violated Justice Department (DOJ) guidelines with secret surveillance of Democratic lawmakers.

US Attorney General Merrick Garland
US Attorney General Merrick Garland

“Political or other improper considerations must play no role in any investigative or prosecutorial decisions,” Garland said in a statement.

“These principles that have long been held as sacrosanct by the DOJ career workforce will be vigorously guarded on my watch, and any failure to live up to them will be met with strict accountability.”

Garland’s statement comes after revelations that the Justice Department under former president Donald Trump had sought phone records of journalists and Democratic lawmakers probing possible collusion between the Trump election campaign and Russia.

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“There are important questions that must be resolved in connection with an effort by the department to obtain records related to Members of Congress and Congressional staff,” Garland said.

“I have accordingly directed that the matter be referred to the Inspector General and have full confidence that he will conduct a thorough and independent investigation,” he said.

“If at any time as the investigation proceeds action related to the matter in question is warranted, I will not hesitate to move swiftly.”

Democratic congressmen Adam Schiff and Eric Swalwell have said that Apple was ordered to hand over their phone records as well as those of family members as Trump fought a flow of damaging leaks about his 2016 election campaign’s links to Russia.

The Justice Department also seized records of reporters from CNN, The Washington Post and The New York Times without their knowledge.

The secret surveillance took place as Trump faced investigations by special counsel Robert Mueller and the House Intelligence Committee — where Schiff was then the top Democrat — into whether his election campaign colluded with Russia and whether Trump tried to obstruct the probe.

It is not known if Trump explicitly told the Justice Department to investigate Schiff and Swalwell and his former attorneys general — Jeff Sessions and Bill Barr — have denied knowledge of the subpoenas.

Nancy Pelosi, Democratic speaker of the House of Representatives, demanded on Sunday that Sessions and Barr testify before Congress about what she called a “rogue” Justice Department operation.

“What the (Trump) administration did — the Justice Department, the leadership of the former president — goes even beyond Richard Nixon,” Pelosi said on CNN, referring to the Watergate scandal that ended the Nixon presidency.

“This is about undermining the rule of law,” Pelosi said. “And for Attorney General Barr and Sessions to say they didn’t know anything about it is beyond belief.

“So, we will have to have them come under oath to testify about that.” AFP