WASHINGTON – Apple announced last month that former President Donald J. Trump’s attorney at the White House, Donald F. McGahn II, the Justice Department subpoenaed information in February 2018 about an account it owned and that the government had owned the company two people who had been informed about the matter told him at the time that it had forbidden its use.
Mr McGahn’s wife received a similar notice from Apple, said one of the people, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive matter.
It is not clear what exactly FBI agents were investigating, nor whether Mr. McGahn was their particular focus. During investigations, agents sometimes compile a large list of phone numbers and email addresses that have been in contact with an individual and attempt to identify each of those individuals by submitting subpoenas to communications companies for account information such as names, computer addresses, and associated credit card numbers credit with you.
Still, the revelation that agents secretly collected data from an incumbent White House attorney is striking as it comes amid a political backlash to revelations about the seizure of data from Trump-era reporters and Democrats in Congress for leak investigation. The president’s top attorney is also a primary point of contact between the White House and the Justice Department.
Apple informed Mr. McGahn that it complied with the subpoena in a timely manner, but refused to tell him what it had made available to the government, according to one person who was briefed on the matter. According to Justice Department guidelines, toggle orders for subpoenas can be extended for up to a year at a time, suggesting that prosecutors went to court multiple times to prevent Apple from notifying the McGahns sooner.
Apple and Justice Department spokesmen did not immediately respond to requests for comment. A lawyer for Mr. McGahn declined to comment.
Apple informed the McGahns that it received the subpoena on February 23, 2018, according to one person who was brought up on the matter. The other person familiar with the matter said the subpoena was issued by a grand jury in the Eastern District of Virginia.
It is not clear why the prosecution received the subpoena. But several notable events occurred around this time.
One of the roughly simultaneous events was that the federal court in the Eastern District of Virginia was the center of part of the Russia investigation, led by Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III, and focused on Paul Manafort, the former chairman of Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign.
Since Mr McGahn was the top Trump campaign attorney in 2016, it was possible that he had been in contact with someone earlier, whose account the Mueller team was closely investigating in early 2018.
In particular, Mr Manafort had been hit with new allegations of fraud that had been unsealed the day before the subpoena. Later developments showed that Mr. Mueller’s investigators scrutinized some of his communications reports closely in the days that followed.
Another roughly simultaneous occurrence was that Mr. Trump had become angry with Mr. McGahn at the time about a matter related to the Russia investigation, and that included a leak.
In late January 2018, the New York Times reported, based on confidential sources, that Mr Trump had previously directed Mr McGahn to have Mr Mueller removed from the Justice Department in June, but Mr McGahn had refused to do so and threatened to resign. The Washington Post confirmed this report in a follow-up article shortly afterwards.
The Mueller report and Mr McGahn himself in a private testimony to the House Judiciary Committee earlier this month described Mr Trump’s anger at Mr McGahn after the Times article, including trying to get him to make a statement wrongly doing so denies. Mr. Trump told his aides that Mr. McGahn was a “liar” and a “leaker,” according to former Trump administration officials. In his testimony, Mr. McGahn said that he was a source for The Post’s successor to clarify a nuance – to whom he had communicated his intentions to resign – but he was not a source for the original Times article.
However, there are reasons to doubt that Mr. McGahn was the target of a Justice Department leak investigation resulting from this episode. Among other things, information about Mr Trump’s order to remove Mr Mueller does not appear to be the type of classified secrecy that disclosure without authorization could be a crime.
Another roughly contemporaneous occurrence is that the subpoena to Apple, which took up Mr. McGahn’s information, came shortly after another that the Justice Department sent Apple on February 6, 2018 for an unauthorized disclosure leak investigation of information on Russia to conduct an investigation that collects data on Congress staff, their families and at least two members of Congress.
Among those whose data was gagged and recently notified were two Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee: Eric Swalwell and Adam B. Schiff, both from California. Mr. Schiff, a sharp political opponent of Mr. Trump, is now the chairman of the panel. The Times first reported on the subpoena last week.
Many questions about the events that led to the politically sensitive subpoenas remain unanswered, including how highly authorized they were in the Trump Justice Department and whether investigators expected or hoped they would bring in data on the politically prominent lawmakers. The subpoena was looking for data on 109 email addresses and telephone numbers.
In this case, the leak investigation appeared to have focused primarily on Michael Bahar, then a member of the House Intelligence Committee. People close to Jeff Sessions and Rod J. Rosenstein, the two senior Justice Department officials at the time, said neither of them knew that prosecutors had requested data on the accounts from lawmakers for this investigation.
It remains unclear whether agents were pursuing a theory that Mr Bahar himself had leaked or whether they suspected him of speaking to reporters with the consent of the legislature. Either way, it seems they couldn’t prove their suspicions that he was the source of unauthorized disclosures; The case has been closed and no charges have been brought.
Katie Benner and Adam Goldman contributed to the coverage.