The top national security official at the Department of Justice is resigning as the department grapples with the fallout over its subpoena of the phone records of members of Congress and reporters during the Trump administration, a DOJ official confirmed Monday.
The resignation comes as Attorney General Merrick Garland announced an overhaul of DOJ’s procedures amid revelations that the agency seized Democratic lawmakers’ communication records.
John Demers, who’s been the head of DOJ’s national security division since 2018, plans to step down at the end of next week, the DOJ official told NBC News.
The departure of Demers, who likely was briefed on decisions to subpoena phone records linked to reporters and members of Congress, was planned and is not related to the controversy, the official said. Demers had been asked to stay on for a time by John Carlin, the No. 2 official in the deputy attorney general’s office, but it was always expected that he would leave during the summer, the source said.
The disclosure of Demers’ resignation comes amid a furor over the DOJ’s efforts to secretly obtain phone records from reporters and lawmakers in leak investigations, and a day after Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., called on Demers to testify publicly about what he knew about the subpoenas to Apple and Microsoft for information involving Democratic Reps. Adam Schiff and Eric Swalwell.
The two California Democrats were on the House Intelligence Committee investigating former President Donald Trump’s ties to Russia at the time the subpoenas went out in 2018. The Justice Department has also drawn fire for seizing the records of journalists at The New York Times and elsewhere in an effort to identify sources for national security stories published during the Trump administration.
Garland and Schiff on Monday spoke about his phone records being seized. In a statement, Schiff said he is “pleased” Garland and Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco “recognize the importance of the issues at stake and have given their commitment to an independent IG investigation.”
“I have every confidence they will also do the kind of top-to-bottom review of the degree to which the department was politicized during the previous administration and take corrective steps,” he said.
The conversation followed Democratic grumbling that they heard first from Apple and not the Biden administration that their records had been secretly obtained during the Trump administration.
“We need a thorough accounting to answer the many questions about how and why the Department of Justice subpoenaed records related to members of Congress, their staff, and journalists,” Schiff said.
Earlier Monday, Garland said he planned on putting safeguards in place to prevent future abuses.
“[P]olitical or other improper considerations must play no role in any investigative or prosecutorial decisions,” he said. “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.”
“I have instructed the deputy attorney general, who is already working on surfacing potentially problematic matters deserving high level review, to evaluate and strengthen the department’s existing policies and procedures for obtaining records of the Legislative branch,” Garland said. “Consistent with our commitment to the rule of law, we must ensure that full weight is accorded to separation-of-powers concerns moving forward, and any failure to live up to them will be met with strict accountability.”
Pete Williams and Allan Smith contributed.