Senior DoJ official to exit amid outcry over seizure of Democrats’ records
A senior official in the national security division of the Department of Justice is reportedly set to leave his post, amid uproar over the seizure of records from top Democrats and reporters as part of an investigation into leaks of classified information during the Trump administration.
According to the New York Times, one of the outlets whose reporters’ records were accessed, the departure of John Demers, assistant attorney general of the national security division, had been in the works for months.
But news of his exit came amid intensified scrutiny of the department because of the records seizures under the leaks investigation, which started under Donald Trump.
The attorney general, Merrick Garland, was due to meet senior executives from the New York Times, Washington Post and CNN on Monday afternoon.
In a statement, Garland said: “As I stated during my confirmation hearing, political or other improper considerations must play no role in any investigative or prosecutorial decisions.
“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.
“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. If at any time as the investigation proceeds action related to the matter in question is warranted, I will not hesitate to move swiftly.”
Garland said he had asked the deputy attorney general, Lisa Monaco, to “evaluate and strengthen the department’s existing policies and procedures for obtaining records of the legislative branch”.
He concluded: “Consistent with our commitment to the rule of law, we must ensure that full weight is accorded to separation-of-powers concerns moving forward.”
Demers is the longest-serving Senate-confirmed official who took up his role under Trump and remained at the DoJ after Joe Biden was inaugurated as president, in January. The Times reported that he will leave the department on 25 June.
The news comes three days after the DoJ inspector general announced his office would launch an investigation of the records seizures, which Democrats have criticized as a “shocking” abuse of power.
Two Democratic congressmen, Adam Schiff and Eric Swalwell, and Trump’s White House counsel Don McGahn also had records seized, according to reports.
In stinging remarks on Sunday, the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, told CNN: “What the Republicans did, what the administration did, the justice department, leadership of the former president, goes even beyond Richard Nixon.”
Nixon resigned as president in August 1974, over the Watergate scandal, which involved a break-in at Democratic party offices and other abuses of power.
Trump’s two permanent attorneys general were the former Alabama senator Jeff Sessions and William Barr, who first filled the role under George HW Bush.
“Richard Nixon had an ending,” Pelosi said. “This is about undermining the rule of law. And for these attorneys general, for Sessions at least, to say they didn’t know anything about it, is beyond belief.”
Sunday was the 50th anniversary of another major event of the Nixon years: the first publication of the Pentagon Papers, secret government records about the Vietnam war, by the New York Times.
Sam Feist, CNN’s Washington bureau chief, was due to attend the meeting with Garland on Monday.
He told his own network on Sunday: “Our goal is to make sure that the Pentagon Papers and other stories of extraordinary public interest could be published in the future. It is to protect the freedom of the press now and in the future.”