The top national security official at the Justice Department 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 Justice Department official confirmed Monday.
Attorney General Merrick Garland has announced an overhaul of the Justice Department's procedures after it was revealed that the agency seized Democratic lawmakers' communication records.
John Demers, who has been the head of Justice Department's national security division since 2018, plans to step down at the end of next week, the Justice Department official told NBC News.
The departure of Demers, who was likely to have been briefed about decisions to subpoena phone records linked to reporters and members of Congress, was planned, and it 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 during the furor over the Justice Department's efforts to secretly obtain phone records from reporters and lawmakers in leak investigations. On Monday, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., announced there will be a formal investigation into the matter.
“It remains possible that these cases — which now include Members of Congress, members of the press, and President Trump’s own White House Counsel — are isolated incidents," Nadler said in a statement. "Even if these reports are completely unrelated, they raise serious constitutional and separation of power concerns. Congress must make it extraordinarily difficult, if not impossible, for the Department to spy on the Congress or the news media."
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., called on Demers on Sunday to testify publicly about what he knew about the subpoenas to Apple and Microsoft for information involving Democratic Reps. Adam Schiff and Eric Swalwell, both of California.
Schiff and Swalwell were on the Intelligence Committee, which was investigating former President Donald Trump's ties to Russia when 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 to identify sources for national security stories published during the Trump administration.
Schiff spoke with Garland on Monday about his phone records' being seized. In a statement, Schiff said he is "pleased" that Garland and Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco "recognize the importance of the issues at stake and have given their commitment" to an independent inspector general's 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.
Democrats have grumbled 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 to put safeguards in place to prevent future abuses.
"Political or other improper considerations must play no role in any investigative or prosecutorial decisions," he said in a statement. "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."