The Justice Department was looking for the source of media reports about contacts between Trump associates and Russia, The New York Times reports.
Trump administration officials subpoenaed Apple for data from at least a dozen people connected to the House Intelligence Committee in an attempt to root out the source of leaks of classified information, The New York Times reported this week. The targets included at least two Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee, aides and family members -- one of whom was a minor.
Prosecutors, who seized the records in 2017 and early 2018, were searching for the source of media leaks about contacts between Trump associates and Russia, the Times reported. Rep. Adam B. Schiff of California, then the panel's top Democrat, was one of the members of Congress targeted, sources told the newspaper.
Apple provided metadata and account information, but not photos, emails or other content, a person familiar with the inquiry told the Times. Ultimately, the data subpoenaed didn't tie the committee to the leaks, the newspaper reported.
The report follows recent revelations that former President Donald Trump's administration had secretly obtained phone and email records from a number of journalists, including reporters for CNN and the Washington Post. President Joe Biden said last month he had directed the Justice Department to end the practice of seizing phone or email records of reporters.
As it did with the news organizations, the Justice Department obtained a gag order that prevented Apple from disclosing the subpoenas, a source told the Times. Lawmakers only learned of the probe last month from Apple, after the gag order had expired, the newspaper reported.
Schiff called the investigation "baseless" and said it highlighted how Trump used the system to target political enemies.
"This baseless investigation, while now closed, is yet another example of Trump's corrupt weaponization of justice," Schiff said in a tweet Thursday evening.
Rep. Eric Swalwell of California, another prominent Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, told CNN on Thursday evening he had been notified that his data was seized as part of the probe. Representatives for Swalwell, a longtime critic of Trump, didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.
Apple typically receives thousands of requests each year for individual data from governments and private parties in litigation around the world. In April, the company reported that requests it received in 2020 had targeted 171,368 devices, a drop of 12% from the same time in 2019. Apple provided the information requested 80% of the time.
Representatives for Apple and the Justice Department didn't respond to a request for comment. On Friday, however, Apple said it didn't know that the DOJ's subpoena targeted Democrats' data. The subpoena sought data belonging to a seemingly random collection of email addresses and phone numbers and "provided no information on the nature of the investigation," a company spokesman told CNBC in a statement. "It would have been virtually impossible for Apple to understand the intent of the desired information without digging through users' accounts."
CNBC also reported Friday that Microsoft received a similar DOJ subpoena. "In this case, we were prevented from notifying the customer for more than two years because of a gag order," the company told the news outlet in a statement. "As soon as the gag order expired, we notified the customer who told us they were a congressional staffer. We then provided a briefing to the representative's staff following that notice. We will continue to aggressively seek reform that imposes reasonable limits on government secrecy in cases like this."
Also on Friday, the Justice Department's independent inspector general opened an investigation into the subpoena for the data, The New York Times reported.