June 15, 2021
John Demers, the Trump-appointed head of the Justice Department’s National Security Division, is expected to step down at the end of next week, according to a person familiar with the matter—a departure that was arranged months ago, but that now comes amid widespread backlash over DOJ investigations into leaks of classified information that began under the administration of the former president, The New York Times reports.
Demers is the longest-serving Senate-confirmed official from the Trump Administration to remain at the Justice Department during the Biden presidency.
John Carlin, the second in command in the deputy attorney general’s office—who, himself, left the agency in April—had before his own departure asked Demers to remain at the department, according to the person. Lisa O. Monaco had just been confirmed to serve as the deputy attorney general, and the three officials had a long history of working together on sensitive national security cases.
In response, Demers asked to leave by summer, and the two men eventually agreed that he would stay on through June 25, the Times’ source said.
But , the Times notes, Demers’s departure also comes as Democrats and First Amendment advocates have attacked the Justice Department following revelations that prosecutors supervised by Demers seized the records of reporters from The New York Times, The Washington Post and CNN and of classified information.
The department’s inspector general announced an investigation on Friday into the matter.
While it is common for the Justice Department to try to find out who shared classified information with the media, it is highly unusual to secretly gather records from the press and lawmakers. The prosecutors also prevented the lawyers and executives of the Times and CNN from disclosing that records had been taken, even to their newsroom leaders, another highly aggressive step.
Much of the spotlight on national security cases during Demers’ three-year run focused instead on the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller, III, who ran the Russia investigation, the Justice Department’s highest profile and politically fraught national security matter.
Justice Department officials say that all appropriate approvals were given for those orders, meaning that the attorney general at the time, not Demers, signed off.
Former Attorney General William P. Barr approved the decision to seize records from CNN and The Washington Post in 2020, people with knowledge of the leak investigations have said. But it is unclear who approved the request for email records from Google that belonged to Times reporters. The request was filed with a court days after Barr left,although he could have signed off on it before leaving.
Leak investigators in 2018 also obtained data from Microsoft and Apple that belonged to Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee, including Representatives Adam Schiff and Eric Swalwell, both of California. Mr. Schiff is now the panel’s chairman.
In those instances, the Justice Department also told the technology companies not to inform customers about the subpoenas until recently.
The data was collected and the gag orders were imposed on the tech companies weeks before Demers was confirmed to lead the National Security Division.
Still, some Democrats demanded answers about what he knew about the leak cases. Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the majority leader, called on Demers on Sunday, June 13, to testify before Congress.
Research contact: @nytimes