WASHINGTON – Apple told Donald F. McGahn II, a White House adviser to former President Donald J. Trump, last month that the Justice Department subpoenaed information about an account belonging to him in February 2018 and that it was The government banned the company from telling him at the time, according to two people briefed on the matter.
Mr. McGahn’s wife also received a similar message from Apple, one of whom spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss a sensitive issue.
It’s not clear what FBI agents are scrutinizing, or whether Mr. McGahn is their particular focus. During investigations, agents sometimes compile a large list of phone numbers and email addresses associated with an object and attempt to identify all of them using subpoenas. to media companies for any account information such as names, computer addresses, and credit card numbers associated with them.
Still, the revelation that undercover agents collected the data of a sitting White House adviser is notable because it comes amid a political backlash to revelations about the seizure. data from reporters and Democrats in Trump’s Congress to investigate the leak. The president’s top lawyer is also the main point of contact between the White House and the Justice Department.
Apple told McGahn it complied with the subpoena in a timely manner but declined to tell him what it provided the government, according to a person briefed on the matter. Under Justice Department policy, subpoena gag orders can be extended for up to a year, which suggests prosecutors have had to go to court multiple times to prevent Apple from notifying McGahns sooner.
Spokespersons for Apple and the Justice Department did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Mr. McGahn’s attorney declined to comment.
Apple told McGahns it received the subpoena on February 23, 2018, according to a person briefed on the matter. Another 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 prosecutors obtained the subpoena. But some remarkable events happened around that time.
One of the nearly simultaneous events that the federal court in the Eastern District of Virginia is at the center of part of the Russia investigation led by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III focuses on Paul Manafort, one-time president of the 2016 Trump presidential campaign.
Because Mr. McGahn was a top lawyer for the Trump campaign in 2016, it is possible that at one point he was among those who were linked to someone the Mueller team looked at. scrutinized in early 2018.
Notably, Mr. Manafort was hit with new fraud charges that were unsealed the day before the subpoena. Subsequent developments revealed that Mueller’s investigators scrutinized some of his communications in the days that followed.
Another quasi-simultaneous event was that around that time, Mr. Trump was angry with Mr. McGahn over an issue related to the Russia investigation, and that included a leak.
In late January 2018, The New York Times reported, based on confidential information, that Mr. Trump had ordered Mr. McGahn in June earlier to ask the Justice Department to remove Mr. Mueller, but that Mr. McGahn had refused to do so and threatened. resignation. The Washington Post confirmed that account shortly afterwards in a follow-up article.
Mueller’s report, and McGahn himself in separate testimony before the House Judiciary Committee this month, described Mr. Trump’s anger towards Mr. McGahn following the Times article, including trying to get him to he issued a false denial. Mr Trump told aides Mr McGahn was a “liar” and a “leaker”, according to former Trump administration officials. In his testimony, Mr. McGahn said that he was the source for The Post to follow up to clarify a nuance – to whom he had communicated his intention to resign – but he was not the source for the original Times article.
However, there are reasons to suspect that Mr. McGahn is the target of any Justice Department leak investigation that stems from that episode. Among others, the news that Mr. Trump ordered Mueller’s removal did not appear to be the kind of top-secret national security secret whose disclosure without authorization could be a crime.
However, an event that almost coincided with Apple’s subpoena for information on Mr. McGahn came shortly after another subpoena the Justice Department sent to Apple on May 6. February 2018, to investigate leaks related to the unauthorized disclosure of information about Russia. investigate and collect data on members of Congress, their families, and at least two members of Congress.
Among those whose data was secretly seized under a gag order and was only recently notified are two Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee: Eric Swalwell and Adam B. Schiff, both in California. Mr. Schiff, a sharp political opponent of Mr. Trump, is now chairman of the panel. The Times first reported on that subpoena last week.
Many questions remain unanswered about the events that led to the politically sensitive subpoenas, including the extent to which they were authorized within the Trump Justice Department and whether investigators foresaw or hoped for. whether they will collect data on prominent political legislators. The subpoena sought data on 109 email addresses and phone numbers.
In that case, the leak investigation appears to have mainly focused on Michael Bahar, then an employee of the House Intelligence Committee. People close to Jeff Sessions and Rod J. Rosenstein, two top Justice Department officials at the time, said that no one knew that prosecutors were looking for data on the lawmakers’ accounts. for that investigation.
It remains unclear whether agents are pursuing the theory Mr. Bahar has revealed himself or whether they suspect he spoke to reporters with the approval of lawmakers. Either way, it seems they were unable to prove their suspicions that he was the source of any unauthorized disclosures; The case was closed and no charges were made.
Katie Benner and Adam Goldman contribution report.